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!

Friday, February 22, 2008

The Life of a Japanese School Kid

Working at a language school you have to TALK to your students. At the college you could quite obliviously teach without needing to get to know the ins and outs of every students (often extremely tedious) life.

Now that I'm back in the classroom and having to find out about the students (okay, maybe 'having to' is a bit strong: I'm a nosy fucker who loves knowing the ins and outs, whys and wherefores of everyones existance), I'm again being stunned by some of the things I'm learning.

Take one 8 year old girl I taught the other day. She'd missed most of her day at school because she'd been ill and been sent to the sick room where her mum had had to go and pick her up early. She still had to come to her English lesson though. Now, this kid (and I may be forgetting something from this list) has to do violin, piano and flute lessons, horseriding, ice-skating, cooking lessons, tea ceremony lessons, flower arranging lessons and English lessons. (Oh and she gets sent to Hawaii twice a year - from when she was about 3 apparantly - to study English there).

I asked her when she can play - and she told me she can play at school.

How sad is that?

I've also learned this week that Japanese people only think Hawaii, Las Vegas, Guam, Saipan (and of course Japan) are safe to travel in as everywhere else in the world is at danger from 'the terror' (terrorism).

Footnote: Many of the students I've taught use 'Japanese people' or 'the Japanese' or 'we' instead of 'I', for some reason. I've also had students telling me 'we don't like China airlines', 'we don't like being told we can't eat whale as it's our culture', etc.

The only reason I can think for this links back to the whole education 'group is more important than individual' thing. Or maybe not.

Alex, any thoughts?


Things aren't feeling very settled right now. The biggest decision I need to make - in the next ten days - is whether to hand my notice in on my accommodation, or not. Under the daftness of my contract for the place I'm living I need to give TWO months notice, but only if it's at the end of the month. At any other time, it could end up being almost THREE. Totally insane.

I've been in my apartment since I moved to Japan, 3.5 years ago, and this is the longest I've lived under the same roof in my whole adult life.

Added to this there's the complexities and costs involved in moving. As a foreigner there's a limitation to the sorts of accommodation I can have and, naturally, not speaking Japanese restricts things further. I don't want to live in a guesthouse or gaijin house: my sharing days are over, I hope! And that leaves a small problem. In Japan it is common to pay 'key money' - this is basically a system whereby the landlord totally rips you off to the tune of about a months rent as a 'gift' to him. Sorry, but I refuse to go down this path, beit the norm, or not. Then there's the thing about finding places that don't require you to have a Japanese guarantor....

There ARE places out there, but it could be a long and stressful hunt to find one, BUT although my place now is a pretty decent size, it's too cold in winter, too hot in summer, half the appliances and whatnot need fixing, replacing or sorting and it's not an affordable taxi ride away from the centre of town.

I plan to be here another 12 or so months. I'd like to live more centrally in that time. But the hassle... I need to decide soon though.


Workwise, things are confusing. Until last October I worked for, let's say, the schools branch of my company, teaching in our own language schools. In October I changed my contract to the business branch of the company where teachers get sent to kindergardens, offices, homes, schools, etc to teach. I changed contracts to take on the college semester I was offered and worked at four days a week. The semester has now finished and we won't know until April who and how many of our teachers are wanted back.

This puts me in somewhat of a limbo as far as the company is concerned. I need a full schedule, but can't be given regular days until we know about the college. In English this means, any area that wants to throw a day at me can and is and I'm running all over Tokyo and Saitama with no control over where I'm going.

I'm not most pleased about this but at least it's only for a few weeks and I DO have Cambodia coming up in March to knock a chunk out of it.


I checked early sakura forecasts today, and looks like they're predicting the end of March this year (bloody early) for Tokyo. YAY, HANAMI!!!!!

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Great big grey bubble

Have you ever felt that you have something pressing down on you, totally overwhelming you and dragging you down, like a balloon inside of you that sometimes expands so much you almost have trouble breathing and other times you can keep under control enough to be able to function with a semi-forced smile on your face when all you really want to do is stay holed up wallowing in you don't really know what and feeling that it's just not worth doing anything functional, where getting up, going out and appearing 'normal' is just one huge struggle, but you go through the motions anyway, never being completely satisfied by anything, always looking for something or someone or someplace that may or may not exist and where the hope of finding it is almost as big as the fear of finding it and the hope of figuring out just what 'it' is that you are searching for, where going out and being with people isn't so much a joy as a way of stopping you from floating around in your own head too much and where things just don't make any sense, and where for the last few years you have realised that you have absolutely no idea what you are doing or why you are doing it or what else you should be doing and you just don't know how to get out of your hole or find your way but you're starting to have had enough of the searching for the elusive something that probably doesn't exist, and where you can't think of any time in your life where you actually found the elusive happiness that you see around you and so figure out must exist, where you know things should be done or need to be done but it's all just too much effort to do it, where you are tired all the time but can't seem to get around to wanting to go to sleep, where you need to tidy, you need to exercise, you need to sort your life out but it's just all too much effort... and you sit instead in the numbness of your own pain and wait and wait and wait for the great big grey bubble that's been sitting inside you for some 30-odd years to finally burst?

Welcome to my life.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

No Fail Policy

Before I started working at the college I had no idea of the existance of Japan's 'no fail policy'. Students who were getting 25% in exams were being boosted to an 85% so it all looked good on paper and so that everyone remained happy. Especially as they had paid. Not realising it wasn't only the college I worked at that did this, I talked to a few more people and was horrified to learn it's a widespread thing throughout Japanese schools and universities.

It doesn't matter how well you do. You cannot be failed. How terrible is this for a lesson in life?

I think this thread from the Japan Forum explains it very well. Actually, it talks about the Japanese education system in general and is well worth a read, including all the comments.

What do you think? Do you think this is an acceptable lesson to teach to kids, teens and young adults? Is it common-place in any other countries?

I find it particularly ironic in a country where success in private English exams like IELTS, BULATS, TOEIC (oh the dreaded, pointless TOEIC), EIKEN and so on are so highly encouraged and sought that academic institutes have such a different point of view on regarding every day studies.


Sunday, February 10, 2008

Green Smoothies

Green smoothies are nutricious, delicious, easy to prepare and fun to be creative with.


preparing them in a postage-stamp sized space and deciding to explore your fridge again without checking whether the lead from your Braun handblender is likely to make contact with the door results in ten minutes of cleaning glop from your carpet, walls, cupboard doors, self.

Not to be recommended.


Thursday, February 07, 2008

Fellow Tokyo Teachers...

I ask you: which is worse? Marking 1,000,000 terribly disheartening exams or the unending cold weather?

I'm torn.


At least the end is in sight. For the marking and hopefully the cold weather too. AND, thanks to exams and marking, I've kind of had an EXTREMELY easy week this week.

P.S. Grange Hill is no more. HOW sad! But then how could you keep going when we had such controversial story lines going 20-odd years ago. Still, it's nostalgia, innit!

I take it back. What's worse than marking all the exams is having to manipulate the figures so everyone passes regardless. That irks.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Hey! I Can't Be Right All The Time, Can I?

"I think it's getting warmer."

After a fab night out last night drinking (lots of) cocktails, eating good food, enjoying a new Cuban restaurant in Roppongi and MOST IMPORTANTLY laughing and talking with fantastic people, I cycled home from the station with ICY rain hitting my face like little needles.

Woke up this morning, hangover free thankfully, to see the world on the other side of my window covered in thick snow that is not abating!

So, I got up, did the washing up, made a big bowl of porridge (not exactly raw, but suited to the weater), put The Devil Wears Prada onto the DVD player and got back into bed, getting out again only long enough to change other dvd's into the player and go to the supermarket to get some kahlua ( I was craving, kahlua, okay!) and take some snowy pictures.
I was meant to go to a raw potluck party at Veggie Paradise tonight but it's so cold out, and it'll be icy and slippy later and I donno what'll happen with the trains. And I'm a wuss.

Anyway, here's pix from today:

And this is from a couple of weeks ago when it snowed in the middle of our college! The college is centred around an open-roofed courtyard surrounded by classrooms in a sort of square donut. Seeing snow coming in through the middle of the college was quite amusing. And bloody cold.

Here are some pictures from the last few weeks. Drunken afternoon karaoki'ing from three weeks ago, evening izakaying from two weeks ago:

I think I'll leave these caption free as they kind of speak for themselves!

Class of 2008. Watch out world - this bunch is being let loose on universities in Australia, New Zealand and England. How many of them will survive?

Last night: Beautiful ladies (Angie, Kate, Andi, me, Kylie), fantastic (strong) drinks and a very nice totally vegan cake! - oh and a HOT bar owner!

Friday, February 01, 2008

The Friday Four

1. I got sent nail files :D

2. I do believe it's getting warmer. Not warm, just warmer!

3. I saw a lovely pink wig today, in a cute bob. I was extremely tempted as I really want one. But 8000 yen (£40) was bit expensive. It IS nice though!

4. I asked thirteen 19-20 year olds would they rather do another session on modal verbs or relax a bit and watch some videos. Would you believe that 9 of the 13 actually chose modal verbs over videos! Kids these days! Anyway, today was the last day of teaching as we torture the kids with exams next week. As for the modals vs. videos debate - I overruled them and inflicted Japanese toilet training, spoof sushi eating, aerobic English, Little Britain and Japanorama at them.

They forgot about the modals.