Thursday, March 25, 2010
Living in Japan gave me a chance to travel to many interesting places inside and outside the country. I visited Mexico, Hong Kong, Hawaii, Laos and Thailand. Inside Japan I visited more than half of the countries 47 prefectures. Living amongst the Northern Japanese Alps allowed me to ski on some of the best slopes in Asia regularly. In the summer I hiked many Japan's biggest and best mountains. I got into running and completed two full marathons. Through these activites I made many good friends, Japanese and foreigner or gaijin 外人 alike.
I got to know the culture and found out the best and the worst of Japan. The best: so many wonderful Japanese foods and dishes, the shinkansen bullet trains and simple efficiency, futuristic gleaming modern architecture side by side with beautiful traditional buildings, karaoke and other Japanese inventions, the work ethic and manners, cherry blossom time or hanami 花見. The worst: beurocracy, even now a failure to aknowledge and come to terms with World War 2, strange Japanese takes on western culture like the KFC Christmas bucket of chicken or teenage girls or ギャル trying to look western by wearing coloured contact lense and dyeing their hair orange.
During my time in Japan there was a revolving door of five different Japanese prime ministers. My family and friends all moved on with their lives. Notably my brother got married, moved to the USA and had a baby. My internet alias Matt Santos predicted the election of Barack Obama as life mirrored art and TV's the West Wing proved uncannily accurate.
This is not the end of my association with Japan. I have become fluent in Japanese and recently passed the Japanese Language Proficiency Test level 2. I intend to continue studying and maybe even try to find a job where I can use my Japanese skills. My love life has had its ups and downs but I am now very happily together with a Japanese lady. She will join me in England soon. I will certainly go back to visit and may go back and work in Japan again. This is the end of this blog though. It served it's purpose to reassure and inform my friends and relatives back in England of what I'm doing. It was also a diary and a personal history for me although edited of the more private or scandalous episodes of my Japanese life. It will remain on the internet for the consumption of people who know or people who don't. Thanks for everything, Japan. See you soon. さようなら
Friday, March 12, 2010
I had brought my guitar with me with the intention of playing one goodbye song at the end of 2nd lesson. However, Yamamoto sensei spotted this in the staff room and interupted 2nd lesson to ask me:
"Kevin sensei! Today we were supposed to do cleaning outside after 2nd lesson but we can't becuase of the snow. Can you do a 20 minute guitar concert for the whole school?! It will start in 10 minutes."
I had little choice but to say yes and so I sang through a few beatles songs. It was well recieved but a tougher audience might not have been so impressed. There was time for thanks, farewells and a few photos before I had to go down the road to Gojo Elementary school.
Gojo is the smallest school in Matsumoto with only 36 students total and destined for merger with Nakagawa school in a few years. It had started raining now as the temperture rose. 4th period I had a lesson with the 5th grade, all 7 of them. We studied food and ordering in restuarants. They did very well with the English and it was a nice lesson. I ate lunch with the 4th graders, all 5 of them. They asked me to play dodgeball with them and so I again was the main target throughout the match. A special English assembly had been arranged prior and we played some games involving learning the names of sports. I was again requested to play the guitar and so I sang "Yesterday" with all the teachers mouthing the words! I knew the Beatles were popular everywhere but I was still surprised. Then I was present a thank you card and was asked to shake each student's hand individually. A small school so forturnately it didn't take too long. 5th lesson I taught the 6th grade, all 6 of them. We learnt about jobs and I asked each student their career ambitions. They were variously doctor, pharmacist, voice actor, manga cartoonist, dancer and baseball player; all fine aspirations. In form time at the end of school I was once again asked to play dodgeball. By the time I had said my goodbyes and left the rain had turned into snow again and I drove home with great caution.
And so my last day had finished. In many respects quite a typical day; in many respects untypical. It contained all the best and worst aspects of my job. I got to teach fun lessons to happy, enthusiastic students. I got to spend time in lovely small old fashioned schools and school buildings before they are soon torn down and merged. I had to pretend to like things I didn't. I got to share my language and culture with students who have hardly ever seen a non-Japanese person. I had to an awful lot of driving.
Tuesday, January 05, 2010
My brother lives near Austin, Texas. You can't fly there directly from Japan so you have to transit somewhere. I decided to turn this into an opportunity and on the way back had a two day stopover in Hawaii.
On the first day I went to Pearl Harbor. It was a very interesting site and they have fitting memorials to the people that died there and during the Second World War. I have now seen WW2 sites on four continents now (Tunisia, the beaches of Normandy, Hiroshima and Nagasaki and now Pearl Harbor) and always struggle to comprehend the scale, physically and historically, of these events and how much they shaped the world as it is now.
I followed that by a walk through downtown Honolulu and Waikiki beach. The influence of various immigrant communities, not least the Japanese, is very noticeable and makes it a nice place to explore. Waikiki beach is full of tourists and yet very beautiful inspite of all of the souvenir shops, etc.
My second day I hired a rental car and drove around Oahu island. I didn't reserve so the only car available was a Jeep SUV. It was massive and a beast to drive. I just about got to grips driving it and set off driving around the coast. Along the way numerous places are signposted as "Scenic points" though you could park your car just about anywhere on the coast and have a lovely view. I made my way clockwise around the island taking in the views and I stopped for a swim. In the afternoon I hoped to go to the North Shore and Kaena Point which I am told is the prime spot for whale and sea turtle spotting. However, the US President was also on holiday in Hawaii at the same time and on that particular day at the same time he went to the North Shore. Shortly before the start of the hiking trail to Kaena Point the secret service blocked the road and I was told to turn my car around. Disappointed I headed back and passed the presidents motorcade. There were about 10 police cars, 5 blacked out SUV's, 2 blacked out limousines and an ambulance. I can't imagine living with that level of security all the time. It was a shame I couldn't go to the North Shore though I understand why President Obama has so much security. He didn't really ruin my Christmas. Truthfully I had a great time and hope you had a happy Christmas too.
Monday, December 07, 2009
Monkey Dogs Training Display
7th December 2009
To publicise the activity of "Monkey Dogs", or dogs employed to chase monkeys away from agricultural land and back up into the surrounding mountains, a training display was held yesterday at Shinano Omachi train station square.
Omachi city was in 2005 the first city in the whole country to introduce a team of "Monkey Dogs". To help manage the cost of running the scheme the dogs are housed and kept by farmers in the area. At the moment 17 specially trained dogs are in place living on nearby farms and in each of these farms they have been effective in curtailing the damage to crops caused by monkeys.
At yestersdays display 15 dogs were on show and paraded in front of the station. Then at the station square Ryuyu Isomoto, a representative of Azumino Dog School in Azumino city, led the dog owners as they lined up and walked their animals and practiced giving them orders.
Mr Isomoto said "At each location where we have a Monkey Dog they are able to chase away invading monkeys".
by Minorino Nakazawa
The "Monkey Dogs gather outside JR Shinano Omachi train station square for training.
I've never been hiking in the snow before so it was a real experience. We climbed Yakedake which means "burning mountain" and appropriately enough is an active volcano. I was wearing full winter gear; crampons, thermal underwear, gloves, ski jacket etc. I needed it because there was considerable snow fall. We started at 1600 metres and climbed up to 2350 metres. The summit was just another 100 metres but by that point the snow was so high we couldn't find the path. We headed back disappointed. It was a great experience and a first for me (I've never had my trousers freeze before!). I hope to go again.