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!

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Things that make you....

Last week one of my colleagues told me his fiancee had just spent 15,000 yen on her hair. That's about £75 / US$130. She spent three hours in the salon for this money. What did she have done, I hear you asking?

She had a perm to straighten her hair. Japanese women have THE straightest hair I've ever seen in my LIFE.

Colleague and I found this VERY funny. I bet the hairdresser did too.


On my way to the station, from time to time, I pass some very little Japanese kindergardners, walking in a crocodile with their teachers and holding onto a rope as they walk. There's normally about 12 or so of them and they must only be about 3 years old. They really are super cute and I always smile when I see them. (Sometimes out of relief at not having cycled over them, but mainly because they're so cute).

Today they were super-super cute: they, and their teachers, were walking along along singing Doe A Deer, in English.

It made my morning :D

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Things that make you go 'huh'?

Japan is a massive storehouse of oddities and curiousities and more beauty and beautifying products than I could ever have imagined. From skin whitener creams to plastic gadgets you put in your mouth to stretch your smile while you sleep, the list is endless. Today, I was browsing in a pharmacy-ish store trying to find some new nail scissors.

As I scanned up and down the aisles, I finally saw some small scissors. Nail scissors? No. They were EYE SCISSORS. Amongst a whole array of scary looking torture implements for the eyes (eyebrow curlers have NEVER come near my eyes. They look some mediaval device for extracting your eyeballs, in my opinion) were eye SCISSORS. I don't really want to think about this much more. It's making me squirm...

Also there was eye TAPE (little thin sticky strips). My understanding is you use it while you're sleeping but I'm not really sure why at this stage BUT never fear, further investigation WILL be done. Google was pretty unhelpful. It just gave me a load of links for 'hook and eye tape'. Thanks Google. I did read something though that suggested it's for producing a double eye-lid.

I guess vanity and pain have gone hand in hand since earliest man but all the same.

Now, pass the mirror and tweezers someone, please...!

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Three little things

1. I FINALLY get to start studying for a TESOL qualification tomorrow. It's been a long time coming and I can't wait...

Update: The first day is done! There's seven of us doing the course and it was a long day, although it was fun. There was a lot to take in - and I think today will probably prove to be one of the easiest days on the course. I've already got a heap of new things I want to try with my students this week though. I'm really looking forward to the rest of the course now.

2. Two years ago, to the day, I made my first blogging post. Happy blogiversary to me....

And I remember well making that first post. The idea just suddenly came to me one day, ten weeks before I was due to leave, whilst sitting bored shitless at my desk at work, that blogging about Japan would be a fun thing to do. I chose the name first - Jo-in-Japan - and was really happy to see the name was available. I didn't intend to start the blog until I got to Japan but frustration and tedium at work tempted me into making a start on it. And I'm glad I did. I now have a permanent record of, not only my time here, but the range or emotions and the planning and the learning processes that went on in the lead up to coming here. I feel I've changed quite a lot in the last two years since I started blogging and mentally began the escape that I followed through two months later.

3. My bloody neigbours kept me awake (again) until 3am last night and THEN the frigging builders woke me at 7.15am. I had to work all day. Guess who is NOT happy and REALLY craving peace and quiet...?

And who was suffering from PMT during this little episode. After I wrote the above I
emailed the girls phone. Partly because I knew if I didn't 'say' something straight away I never would and partly because I was too damn tired in the morning (I had an early start for work as normal on a Saturday) and also because I knew I was due to go out in the evening and then be out all day today. And I had time on the way to work to carefully compose and double check what I was saying so it wouldn't seem aggressive. Maybe I should have got up at 3am, got dressed and gone next door, hammered on their door and shouted at them, or waited until the next time we were all in to do it, but this was simplest. I didn't get a reply. If there's a repeat performance I guess I'll have to either FIND time to go around or write a letter to them. Or if that fails - complain to the company that leases us the apartments.

Just give me peace. If I can't have it in my own apartment, where can I have it?

Does anyone else feel this way?

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

To Sarah and Marcia

Dear Sarah and Marcia,

As you BOTH emailed this to me I thought I'd answer on here. (Generic comment to each question: ONLY FOUR????!!!!)

A) Four jobs I've had in my life:
1. English language teacher
2. Nanny
3. BBC Production Co-ordinator
4. 'Expert' at a wine museum

B) Four movies I would watch over and over:
1. Grease
2. Love Actually
3. Spirited Away
4. Dirty Dancing

C) Four places I have lived:
1. Tokyo
2. Paris
3. London
4. On a farm in Cornwall

D) Four TV shows I love to watch: I can't watch decent shows here BUT am DVD'ing and downloading stuff, so current list would be:
1. Lost
2. 24
3. Desperate Housewives
4. Absolutely Fabulous (Yes, I KNOW it's ancient: but I'm ploughing my way through all the series (again) at the moment)

E ) Four places I have been on vacation:
1. Vietnam
2. Hong Kong
3. Guatemala
4. Israel

F) Four Websites I visit daily:
1. http://www.yahoo.com
2. http://www.bbc.co.uk
3. http://thorntree.lonelyplanet.com/
4. My blog and a variety of other blogs

G) Four of my favorite foods:
1. Ice cream
2. Sushi
3. Chicken
4. Pitta bread (preferably stuffed with humous, falafel, olives and salad)

H) Four places I would rather be right now :
1. In a hammock on a quiet beach with the sea lapping and no other noise. I'd have a big straw umbrella over me, a book in one hand, and a cocktail in the other
2. On holiday. Anywhere
3. Having a lovely massage
4. On a round-the-world pop-into-visit-friends tour!

I) Four people I think will respond:
1. No idea

BUT I'm throwing this out to Liisa, Beastie, Antonia, Jules and Jules, Melanie, Ben, FashMagSlag, MrTeacher, Jayne and anyone else that's actually reading this post.

Go on. You know you want to. Fill up my little comment box. Pleeeeeease!

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

It's a sandal scandal

It's summer and feet are coming out unfortunately.

Here's my guide to successfully wearing sandals:*

1. Choose a pair that really fit you. And I don't mean just three of your toes. Show some consideration to your big toe and your little toe. Those poor pinkies need love too.

1.1 The above also applies to your heel. It should be totally in contact with your shoe and not hanging over the edge.

2. Don't choose an ugly pair when there are so many beautiful ones available.

2.1 However, do question whether it's really okay to be seen in adult sized child/barbie dress up shoes. Seriously.

3. Choose a pair you can walk in. Click-click-scrape-scrape is NOT a nice sound to hear in the streets.

4. Do NOT wear them with socks, stockings or tights. Just don't, okay?

5. Have a look at your feet. Now. Go on, do it. Are your toenails nicely shaped? Are they painted a pretty colour? Have you blasted or scraped away all of that horrible dead hard skin? Are your feet REALLY presentable to the world? Are you sure?

5.1 Remember that nail varnish chips and starts wearing off. This is not a pretty sight either.

Okay then. NOW, you're set to wear sandals in public.

* Many Japanese are guilty of the above crimes. Especially the ugly sandals.


P.S. Will someone PLEASE stop the sodding rain? Saturday daytime it rained very heavily, on and off, with thunder and lightening. Sunday was dry. Early Monday morning it started raining heavily and now (Tuesday night) it's STILL bloody raining. GAH! So annoying!

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Thought of the Day

Most places are too hot (the weather) or too cold (extreme overuse of aircon) these days.

You can't win.


Quote of the day, from a friend (and apologies as this probably won't be understand by most non-English people):

Japan is like one BIG Essex.

And he has a point!

Just another Wednesday

One of my Wednesday classes is a couple of two year old boys. They are extremely sweet: even if one doesn't speak and would rather climb up the walls (he's getting better).

Today a two year girl came to observe and as much as I'd LIKE to say it was an orderly, smooth lesson, I can't. It was chaos!

Imagine four adults (one grasping a baby) and three little people walking and running around a small room.

Imagine trying to get three toddlers to sit on the floor in a line (even with their mums) long enough to press the tape recorder for a song without one or more trying to run away or sneak behind me to press a different button. (Tip: this works very well when the mothers physically restrain the kids!)

Imagine trying to get three toddlers to stay in one place long enough for me to stick 8 magnetised cards to a magnetised wall (less than 8 seconds) for them to run and grab...

Chaos. Utter chaos. (Of course the mothers and I were actually trying hard to not laugh at times because it WAS getting so ridiculous).

Funniest thing was, mother of the girl signed up the kid. She loved the lesson. She thought it was well-paced (I disguised well all the activities I discarded as they melted into chaos) and she said she thought that the boys understood me very well. (er, there wasn't much to NOT understand: you cannot explain to a two year old, you show them, you act like an idiot. And anyway, we kind of do the same activities each week so they know what to expect.)

And the little girl: I fear she may be naughtier than the two boys put together!

Monday, July 10, 2006

I drink like a camel

Okay. I'm a little bit relaxed, having had quite a few shochu and tomato juices (good drink - I recommend it) so I want to have an anti-rant:

I know I sometimes say negative things about Japan BUT I really do have a love-hate relationship with this place. It's just that sometimes the hate side outweighs the love side slightly and, let's face it, the negative things are a bit more interesting to write about.

The bottom line though is that I love teaching, love not sharing my accommodation, have a great time almost every time I go out and I have some wonderful friends.

My friends here are a diverse bunch. I guess this doesn't surprise anyone that knows me as it's always been the case. Now though, everyone seems to have something in common with someone when I throw random people together.

Naturally I have friends who teach for the same company as me: some girls and some gay guys. I don't have any close straight male friends who are teachers. Luckily, as conversations with teachers inevitably cannot avoid work, not all my friends are teachers for the same company. Some (like Tim and Liisa) I've met through blogging. Others I've met through Lonely Planet. Yet others are Japanese friends: students, or receptionists, or friends of friends or even more random connections BUT...

I feel lucky to have such a diverse and sound group of mates to hang out with and have fun with and teach naughty English to....

I shouldn't post after drinking, should I?

Thursday, July 06, 2006

I am a camel

I watched a TV programme on Japanese TV at 1am last night where they actually taught the sentence, 'I am a camel'. WTF?

Not exactly everyday English now, is it? In fact, I don't recall having ever said that in my life.

One of my students was telling me her son has just started English lessons at school and he finds them boring as they learn things like, 'This is a pen'. I laughed and told her there'd been an article recently that I'd read (in Metropolis, maybe) that had been talking about the same thing, and how in language lessons the world over that is often the first sentence people get taught. And how utterly useless it is as a sentence.

I suggested, 'Where is the toilet?' should be everyone's first sentence in a new language.

Don't you agree?


Today the builders started earlier than normal. They woke me up at 7am. Bastards. Guess who was NOT a happy bunny?


However, the day wasn't all bad as the lovely Julia was in town! I had to work but had a two hour break and somehow a jetlagged Jules managed to follow my instructions and we found each other easily at Ikebukuro Station. Not such an easy feat if you consider I've had problems in the past meeting up with people there who live in Tokyo and who have phones with them!

I gave her a condensed Tokyo experience. We had a quick babble over sushi and I then took her to buy a present for her boss's wife (which took about five minutes).

Whilst women everywhere struggle to make friends with their inner goddess, or inner bitch, or whatever, I took Jules to make contact with her inner kitty. Talk about a kid in a toy shop..... If she'd had more time (and less shoes to carry home) I'm sure she'd have bought up half the Hello Kitty shop.

Hell, she was even suggesting new ranges they should come up with....

From there, and running a little bit short on time now, we went and did some puri cura (print club: see previous post). Of course, as I didn't actually operate the machine myself last time, it was all a bit hit or miss, but we had a laugh posing and trying to not be knocked out by the new screens that kept dropping down in the machine.

Decorating them was also a giggle, although I did have to get the help of some school girls to print them out. We could have spent hours in there but, unfortunately, I had to get back to work, and she had a plane to go and catch.

Lovely lunchbreak, no?


P.S. I am a camel.

Monday, July 03, 2006

School Holiday

Sorry about not blogging, I've been too busy!

Tomorrow I go back to school after having had a nine day break. Golden Week was so hectic that I SWORE this holiday would be quiet. Fat chance. But I've had a LOT of fun, spent too much money and abused my liver constantly.

Last Saturday was a day from hell at work. But it's a long time ago now so let's move on. I went home, had three large cans of Chu-hi, crashed out and woke up the next day with a headache. I then went to El Cantina, a Mexican restaurant in Shinjuku, for lunch with a friend, and then we had a wander around before going to Arty Farty to drink too much. One of my mad Japanese friends and her mate joined us and we had a lovely evening.

On Monday afternoon I worked. Our company sends teachers to kindergardens, schools and companies sometimes and, as the money being offered was pretty good, I volunteered. See previous post for the rant that set off.

On Tuesday I had a lovely day at Disney Sea with another Japanese friend, who kindly took me. We had a lovely day, although I was a tad surprised something with the 'Sea' tag, had no marine life present. There weren't too many people there and the weather was lovely. Just one thing though: there were quite a few school aged kids with their parents wandering around. It was not a school holiday. My friend and a couple of other Japanese I've asked about this have told me parents often do this. Because they are so busy they get the kids to fit around their schedules and, it would appear, they see Disney as being more important than the kid attending school...

Having kids must be so complicated these days.

A quick aside 1: make up - today on the train there was a girl painting her nails. Nice smell... On a different day, I got on a train and a girl was applying her make-up. She continued for the next 20 minutes until she got off the train. Which got me thinking and talking to other people about this.

I wonder how much of a Japanese make-up wearing woman's life could be reclaimed if she didn't wear make-up. The evidence: make-up is applied before leaving the house (30 minutes maybe?) and then reapplied on the train (not an unusual thing to see - and normally done with a mirror the size of a greetings cards). Average train journey: eyebrows are curled and 20,000 different products are applied.

Before walking to the desk it's probably reapplied. I've heard many Japanese women with touch up their make up hourly. That's got to all equal the equivalent of a month or so over a lifetime, surely?

And, guess what? It's hot weather, that means it evaporates and melts!

Japanese women are beautiful. Are they SO insecure they need to hide behind so much make up?

On Wednesday I went with some friends to see Inside Man at the cinema. I really enjoyed the film though I'd question what the point of Jody Foster was, apart from adding another big name to the cast list. Her role was a very odd one and felt like a bit of an after-thought to me. Like, okay we have the idea for this movie BUT how can we let the audience know about the papers...

It's worth seeing anyway and it's a good story, apart from the Jody stuff. Sorry, Antonia.

That night we went to a friends house and had a girlie night. ie, a mixed bunch of females decided to get drunk and eat too much. It was a lot of fun! Although one thing upset me: we decided to go to the pub for a quick drink. The pub menu had that magic word 'PIMMS'. (As many people know I constantly crave both Pimms and humous - the former I cannot get here, and the latter I cannot find a decent supply of). So, the menu had 'Pimms' written on it. I got VERY excited and persuaded everyone they should have Pimms and Lemonade. Already salivating at the thought, the barman came back over to say they had run out of Pimms. I nearly cried.

On Thursday morning we went to the Ebisu Photography Museum to see this years wonderful World Press Photography exhibition. As every year, it was fantastic. I totally recommend it if you've not seen it yet. And I have great admiration for the braveness (stupidity?) of the press photographers who put themselves into such dangerous situations to get the pictures.

On Friday I had lunch with a friend at the Park Hyatt Deli. It was wonderful! Then after a long wander around, I met up with another friend for a cool evening of more drinking, eating and two quick hours (!) of karaoke!

On Saturday I met friends for yet more eating and drinking. We then headed to the pub for the football. Bloody Portuguese team! ;-)

I was with friends, as I said, but knew or knew of quite a few other people in the pub. And I was really shocked: whilst everyone shouts, chants, sings, bashes tables etc (and we certainly were) I just didn't get why educated males were shouting streams of really offensive comments at the screen - think racist, homophobic, sexist and misogynistic just for starters.

One Japanese girl, sitting next to me, asked an Englishman to move as he came out of toilet and stood in front of her blocking the screen. His reply? 'Fuck off. I'm English and I'm watching the football.'

How charming.

Sometimes I'm embarrassed to be English.

Anyway, after our defeat. We went to Arty Farty again. I'd never been on a Saturday before (not that I recall anyway!) and it was VERY crowded. My friend's boyfriend had been given a the bonus at work and so was buying us champagne by the bottle. After an evening of vodkas and Smirnoff Ice's, my poor liver started hurt and went to sleep. I stopped drinking. My friend said his boyfriend was very sick on the way home. I'm not surprised!!!

I crawled into bed about 6.30 in the morning. Then got up and went and met up with some more friends for - guess what? - more eating and drinking. This time we went to Sizzler in Shinjuku and hit their salad bar. With wine of course.

Naturally this was followed with karaoke and Puri Kura.

I've been here almost two years and this was my first Puri Kura experience. I'm ashamed!

Puri Kura (normally Anglicised as 'Print Club') are photos taken in special photo booths, in games parlours, where you choose the background for the pictures of you and your friends and then get to personalize them with special point and click pens, with bats, or flowers or whatever. They are HUGELY popular with schoolkids here and most kids collect them and swap them.

It was fun! I'm going to have to start dragging everyone in now so I can get lots collected too!

A quick aside 2: I'm English. Like most English I can drink a fair amount. The Japanese tolerance for booze is much much lower. ie - a couple of drinks and the average Japanese seems rather drunk. It explains why they have nomihodai here. Other countries couldn't afford it. (Nomihodai is drink as much as you can for a set price in a set time).

It also explains why you see so many Japanese staggering around drunk.

One of my friends told me yesterday how Japanese train themselves to drink and will drink every day to build up their drinking tolerance. Because it's so important for drinking life with their work colleagues that they must be seen to be able to keep up.

How sad an indication of modern life, that you are an outcast if you cannot drink as much as your colleagues.

And tonight, I had to go drinking again, to a local Izakaya, with a Japanese friend for a catch up. I'm so sorry, liver. Really. I know we shouldn't have split a whole bottle of shochu between two of us, but shit happens, ne?

Kids and Control

Most children are safe these days, I acknowledge that. Kids being murdered, raped, attacked, abducted, snatched by estranged partners, gunned down in their schools by pissed off ex-students, etc is rare. I accept that too. BUT it does happen and whether or not the media used to ignore it but don't now really isn't the point in my opinion.

When I was a kid, we would play outside for hours without adult supervision, on playing fields, in the street, in parks.

At school we would have 'stranger danger' talks - don't talk to a strange man (yes, 'man'), if you are scared talk to an older woman, don't get into a strangers car under any circumstances, even if they say they have kittens, or know your parents, etc.

Anyway, my point is about Japanese kids.

I've worked in a couple of kindergardens and have been a bit shocked and surprised with what I've seen, or not seen, regarding the kids running around, security and so on...

Last Monday, for example, I worked in one where access couldn't have been easier. Of course, as a Gaijin, before long I probably would have been stopped sooner or later (if someone had been brave enough to try to communicate with a foreigner), but if I was Japanese, I'm sure it would be a LONG time before I'd get challenged about being in a school like that. Meanwhile, 4 and 5 year olds are wandering around, climbing in and out of windows, in and out of the school, etc with no supervision.

And all wearing their name badges. It would be SO easy for me walk up to little Yuka and pretend I knew him, and remove him from the school, for example...

It truly concerned me. And I've seen name badges on kids in the streets too.

apparently Japanese parents are very strict with their kids. This is what I've heard anyway and, compared to the UK, I've seen almost no tantrums in public since I've been here. The opposite in fact, as kids seem to be very spoiled here, up to a certain age, after which they are treated like robots.

But on the other hand, I haven't seen any parents trying to control naughty kids either. And this is particularly evident in our schools where parents ignore bad or unacceptable behaviour, or inappropriate behaviour or things that might inconvenience someone else. Especially if the parent is busy gossiping with another parent.

School receptionists never trying to control bad behaviour either. The kids really can do whatever they want. One school I work in allows kids to run around with no parental supervision on a regular basis. I spotted one of them some weeks back clutching an open scoring knife (the kind of knife that is sharper than scissors that you use for cutting paper, card, etc) ....

He was smiled at when I pointed this out to the receptionist who removed the knife.

I told one of my students my concerns about the kindergardens and she added that where she lives, next to a park, she often sees kids aged 4 or 5 playing unsupervised and digging up flowers from people's gardens, digging holes in the park, drawing on the pavements, screaming and shouting...

Kids here seem to have a lot of freedom and few guidelines.... until they're herded into clubs, juku, activities etc, by their parents and then all freedom and freetime stops for many of them.