Martin In Japan

Our Man In Japan

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Christmas comes early

I stopped by Seven-eleven and couldn't find any Albirex friendly tickets on the system. But I did find some CC Lemon, the vitamin C enriched soft drink; essential drinking now I'm developing a cold.

When I got home I found a card from the post office sayin that they tried to deliver a package. It must be one of teh parcels my mum sent! I took the card, jumped in the car, did the business at the post office and returned with a shoebox-sized, brown parcel. My Mum had filled in the customs section and it read "Tea, two boxes; biscuits, three packets; Iced Xmas Cake, one; Lemsips, one box; Total value, £10". I have some comfort food from home! With this box and the crumble discovery from Monday, I could feel the winter blues lift a little.

As I unwrapped the parcel, something else caught my eye; the cost of postage. To send this box of everyday British tea, biscuits and medicines, it had cost my Mum 41 quid! That's four times the cost of teh items inside. Yet she still sent it. Regardless of the cost, she knew this box would make me happy and sent it anyway. How wonderful is that?

First thing I did was put the kettle on and have a cup of PG tips with some custard creams. Then a Lemsip. Custard creams are great, but they can't get shut of colds on their own.

Monday, November 29, 2004

Tsunan speaking tests

Back at Tsunan today. Still haven't got the insurance sorted out with Tokamachi High School so I was on the bus again. I called Helen before I left but got confused with the time given by my clock, which was five minutes slower than my watch, so I had a shorter conversation than intended before rushing out for the bus. I texted her on teh bus to apologise and promise to ring again tomorrow.

Nothing different about Tsunan except that from teh office window I can see quite a bit of snow building up on the mountains. Mana-sensei was saying that in her part of Nagano it was snowing this morning, so perhaps we'll get it soon in Niigata. I had a fax on my desk, two weeks late, from Tokuma-sensei thanking me for doing two lessons solo when she was ill. She now considers me to be a 'reliable ALT', which is a massive improvement from a few months ago (re: the whole not-sleeping-properly-turning-up-late-and-yawning thing).

Tsunan are having their speaking tests today, so I've been briefed on how to run teh tests and grade the students. They will also have listening tests so later today I have to record some dialogues for those tests.

I also found out that Albirex are definitely playing a Japan Masters team this weekend to raise money for the Earthquake fund. I'm tempted to go so I'll check seven-eleven tonight and send a mail out to see if anyone else wants to come.

Kitchen Experiment

Been a bit of a wizard in the kitchen tonight, and I've made apple crumble. I still had apples left from when I went to Nagano with Helen and decided that they needed to be eaten. I had moaned so much about not having winter comfort food that I decided to make apple crumble. I had the apples, and sugar in the cupboard. All I needed was some flour and a dish to cook it in. The dish was easy, a small ceramic bowl from Lion D'or for 100 yen. Flour was more difficult. The bakery section in Lion D'or was full of baking sets; boxes full of premixed, dry ingredients which, with some milk and mixing, would trun into fairy cakes or chocolate brownies. But what of the most basic ingredient, flour? Well I couldn't see any at all. Plenty of doughnut mix and browne mix but no flour. I walked away and continued shopping til I had an idea; what about the bags of pancake mix? The instructions on the back of these showed that you needed to add egg and milk to the dry pancake mix. I know pancakes are just flour, milk and egg. So, if you need to add the milk and egg to pancake mix to make pancakes, wouldn't the pancake mix be, essentially, just flour? I bit the bullet and bought the mix.

Back at home, I peeled then sliced my apple and put it in a pan with some sugar to stew on the hob. I only have a toaster oven and reckoned that it needed as much help cooking my dessert as it could get. I made the crumble out of butter and pancake mix and gave it a taste. It was sweet so sugar must also be included in the mix. So far so good. I put the stewed apple in my new ceramic bowl and covered the fruit with the pancake-mix crumble. Then I put it in the pre-heated toaster oven and I set about making my tea. I had to turn down the oven when the crumble started to turn too dark a brown too quickly, which was to be expected if the heating element is only three inches away. So I left the crumble on a low heat and returned to it after I eaten my main meal.

It certainly looked like crumble, and it smelt like crumble too. I placed a serving in a bowl with some ice-cream (no custard yet) and found that it tasted like crumble, albeit with a very sweet topping. Nonetheless, it was a success in my book. A couple of changes, more fruit and use of some proper flour perhaps, and this could be perfect.

Maybe I could make a chicken stew too.

Sunday, November 28, 2004


Done the listening test revisions and questions, printed it off and put it on Tachikawa's desk. That's me done for the day I guess, assuming Kamayama-sensei doesn't want me to prepare anything for Thursday's lesson.

Electraglide, Osaka

Raining so I drove to school. My bike is at Debs, so I didn't have much choice.

This weekend was large. I'm still a little sleepy and my left calf is killing me but the Electraglide All-Nighter in Osaka rocked! The only downer was that we turned up late and missed most of Hexstatic's 90 minute set.

So the events of the weekend. When I left my flat for the train station, the weather was warm and still, just like it is before a typoon. I met Debs on the train to Naoetsu. Before the train pulled off a man asked if I knew Japanese. I said I knew a little and he gestured for me to come back to his seat. He looked as though he was on his way home from a meeting. He showed me a picture taken of a sign near a dam that must have been the topic of conversation. He wanted me to help translate what the sign said. Through a mix of my limited Japanese, his English and my dictionary, I managed to fumble through some kind of explanation. He was satisfied enough and was extremely grateful. When he got off the train he asked if I liked golf. I told him sorry, I prefer soccer and saw him tuck away the golfing magazine I think he was about to offer me as a token of thanks. I must remember this kind of thing for when I ask for help from people.

When Debs and I got to Naoetsu we found waves of rain sweeping down the streets. Luckily, Mel came and picked us up in her car and at her flat were Ryan, Neil and Annie. Ryan was coming to Osaka too, Neil and Annie were here just socially. Emma Baker was on her way, so when she arrived and was picked up from teh station, we settled down to try and get some sleep before our early, 7.19 morning train to Osaka.

We got our train on time. I managed to sleep until Toyama, where we changed for the express to Osaka. There were very few seats on the Express so not all of us had a seat for the journey. We rotated every now and again so none of us had to stand for three hours.

When we got to Osaka we hunted out some food first, lockers for our bags and then the tourist information to find out where the ATC Hall, tonight's venue, was. We then had the afternoon to ourselves. Ryan and Beth went to meet some friends of there's and the rest of us (me, Debs, Emma and Mel) headed to the Sky Tower. The building itself is quite ugly, but the view from the top was amazing.

We all met back at the station around 5ish and headed towards the hotel to get ready. We'd booked a twin hotel room to have somewhere to shower and keep our stuff, so to keep the illusion that there were only two people staying there Mel and Beth checked in while teh rest of us went for food. We found and Italian place round the corner, run by a big guy from Trinidad. This was great cos he spoke English and helped us with the menu when we couldn't read the kana properly. He and Ryan struck up a good report so we had great food with good cenversation. The guy even knocked off the tax from our meal which was nice.

We headed back to the hotel, got showered and changed and headed out to the gig. The room wasn't big enough to sleep all six of us later so Ryan and I decided to take our bags with us so we could stay at a capsule hotel later. We didn't leave til gone 9 which annoyed me because teh gig started at 9 and I knew Hexstatic would be starting first. We got the to venue at 10pm and had a quick look around. I bought a hexstatic t-sirt and as I was putting it away into my bag I heard 'Timber' coming from the main hall. I looked inside and Hexstatic were on! I grabbed everyone else and we managed to catch the last three songs, just as I had when I first saw them five years ago. They were great. They mixed around with Timber and then started playing Ren and Stimpy's 'Happy Happy, Joy Joy'; straight at first before dropping a massive/phat/thumpin' bass beat that sent the crowd wild. It certainly converted Debs to loving Hexstatic. After that, they mixed up some old seventies hits into their own song and finished the set.

Immediatly after they'd left, a chord was struck behind us. There was a second stage, all geared up for live music, and the next band had started to play. The crowd moved from one end of the room to the other and started listening to LCD Soundsystem. What a fantastic concept; two stages, facing each other so as one group plays the next can be set up and the crowd don't have to move far at all. Only the Japanese could think of such a crowd-centric idea.

LCD Soundsystem were okay, but not brilliant so Ryan and I left to try and find a place to stash our bags (the cloakroom queue was massive) and then hunt out some beer. We then took up our places for 2manyDJs and spent the next hour and a half bopping away to a set that included 808 state, Daft Punk, Blur and many others I couldn't recognise. When they finished, I rushed to the other end of the Hall to be as close to the front as I could for the Prodigy.

The Prodigy rocked. They still showed masses of energy and plenty of aggression, even if Keith Flint was camping it up when he got knackered. They played plenty of old tunes and mixed in a few new ones. I managed to get my way right intop the mosh-pit at the front. The mosh-pit wasn't very big, but I had plenty of elbows and head knock into me. I helped a few guys up for a bit of crowd surfing too and was really surprised when one of them returned five minutes later for another go!

After three hours non-stop dancing (half and half for 2manyDJs and Prodigy), we saw a bit of Darren Emerson. He wasn't brilliant so I decided to go off and sit down like an old man. My ankles and calfs were killing me (and they still do today) and I needed to change my t-shirt; the one I had on was covered in my sweat and sweat from other people. Good job I brought my bag. I was feeling hungry and quite sober now after all the bouncing about during Prodigy so we went for some food. After, I felt quite tired and looking round, so did a lot of other people. Everywhere there were people slumped up agaist walls sleeping. I hunted out my own spot and had a quick nap too, waiting for the second wind to carry through til dawn.

I woke and went to see !!! (chk chk chk), who had a lot of adoring fans in the crowd, but I wasn't that impressed. I found the rest of the guys as Ryan and Emma were leaving (Beth had already left) so I said goodbye then hung around with Debs and Mel til Tim Deluxe started. His set opened with a mix of Nirvana's 'Smells like Teen Spirit' which went down well. He moved on to some decent dance mixing, but after about half an hour or so my, legs were screaming out for a sit down. Looking round, Mel had already gone to sleep and Debs was nodding off so we decided to leave.

Dawn was breaking as we got the tram back to the hotel. Mel collected her and Debs bags from teh hotel and we went to the station, bought our tickets and got the express to Kanazawa. A change there and we were back in Naoestu by 13.10. Unfortunatly, it wasn't an express that stopped at Tokamachi so Debs and I had to wait for an hour for the next HokuHoku line train.

When we got to Tokamachi, Debs and I walked to Debs' apartment (I rode my bike to save my calfs), dropped off her stuff and went to met Aimee for ramen near Jusco (what is the name of that place?) to catch up with the week's news (Holly and Kieona enjoyed Tokyo and got to the US safely).
Debs drove me back to my apartment (hence why my bike is at her's) and I settled in for the night. I tried to stay awake as long as possible, but it I couldn't. After falling asleep twice reading my book, I decided it best to shower and go to sleep at 7.30pm. I think maybe I should have gone to sleep earlier because it was difficult to wake this morning; though the cold wasn't helping.

But I'm in school now. I've just nipped off an bought my lunch before the students finish fourth period and now I've caught up with my journal so now there's no excuse to not finish the final draft of the listening test.

Friday, November 26, 2004

Friday faffing

Well, my plans for this afternoon have run very late. I was supposed to be on a train to Naoetsu now, but for one reason or another I'm still in my flat.

Tomorrow is the Elctraglide consert in Osaka. Prodigy are headlining and Hexstatic are one of the acts supporting so I'm really looking forward it. The plans was to get the overnight train tonight from Naoetsu to Osaka and before that hang out in Naoetsu with the ALTs there. However, the train isn't running so we have to get the early morning train at 7.19am on Saturday. Also, the ALTs in Naoetsu aren't really up for going out, so now there's no rush to get there. This is a good thing. I left school around 12ish, headed home, checked my emails and headed out to my favourite ramen place for my usual, Friday-afternoon ton-kotsu ramen. I then got some petrol and kerosene on the way back and had a nap. The nap lasted longer than I expected, which was when I started to run late. Then I realised that I'd left my keitai in the desk drawer at school, so running out for that made me even more late.

I've decided now that I'm going to get the 20:37 train, the same as Debs, so I best get on with the other job I had to do before I leave; writing my Christmas List. It's not as easy as previous years because. I know I want CDs and DVDs from home that I can;t get over here, but I don't know what is available. In Japan I'm not exposed to the background noise of adverts, reviews and word-of-mouth that inform you about the latest CDs, DVDs etc. Let's hope the internet can enlighten me.

Thursday, November 25, 2004

"Who's for Stuffing?"

Heating still on at school, which is great because it's getting colder outside.

Yesterday is was Annie's birthday and Thanksgiving. Annie had invited all the ALTs to her house for a big thanksgiving dinner which she was prepared with the help of Katie D. They did a fantastic job of it too. They had turkey (two medium sized birds specially ordered from Jusco), potatoes, green bean salad, carrots, stuffing and cranberry sauce. We arranged ourselves around three tables, got out our plates and glasses and then did the American tradition of each person, in turn, saying what they are thankful for. I said I was thankful for my oppertunity to come to Japan and for the great friends I've meet while I've been here, which was a pretty much what everybody else said too; not because we have no imagination, but because that is what we really are thankful for. Then we started to eat. Everything was delicious and there was plenty of food for all eleven us, so much that after I had that post-Christmas dinner feeling of wanting to eat more but not physically being able to. I somehow managed to find room for pudding and tried pumpkin pie for the first time. It had a nice texture to it, but the pumpkin itself wasn't anything special and it was lacking in 'sweetness' which I reckon is a pre-requisite of winter desserts. You could say it is a bit of an aquired taste, but I certainly wouldn't call it a sweet, especially when you compare it with apple pie. The apple pie was great and it helped to feed my winter-blues comfort food cravings. If only I had some custard too.

After the meal, some people left but I stayed with the others to chat, drink and pick one of the turkey carcasses clean. We also helped to tidy the Annie's apartment too as a way to say thanks for the food.

I didn't get back home til 12.30am, which ruined my plans for researching and writing my Christmas list. I think I did managed to reply to some emails and chat on MSN in my drunken haze but I don't remember much.

Today I woke with no hangover (as usual) but the cold apartment made it difficult to leave my bed. I eventually got up and into school on my bike since it wasn't raining.

No lessons again today;all the teachers are using my lesson time as grammar cram sessions for the end-of-term exam's. This is great because it gives me time to write this journal and plenty of time to write the passages for the listening exam. Talking of which, I better get cracking and give something to Tachikawa-sensei by the end of today.

Hot Stuff

Yay, the heating is on at school! I stepped into the office and walked straight into a wall of heat. To be honest it was a little too but I didn't want to touch the heater incase I broke it. Tokuma-sensei sorted it out after her first lesson though.

First period I read through the example lesson activities I picked up from yesterday's SHS ALT meeting. Some activities looked quite useful so I've seprated them from the rest and put them in a folder marked 'Activity Ideas'. Perhaps I should also write on the front a descriptive title for each activity. Maybe I will later today. At the moment I've got to write my draft for the listening test.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

What do you get if you have a room full of ALTS?

Today we had the Senior High School ALT Meeting at the Education Center in Niigata. This was the meeting that was scheduled to take place in Nagaoka on Oct 25th, but that was before the earthquake struck on the 23rd.

I got a lift with Debs to the meeting and we took the expressway from Kawaguchi to Niigata-nishi. Route 117 is almost repaired. One area of mountain where the landslide took away the tarmac has been rebuilt and the road relaid. The second area is on it's way to being complete soon. When we passed Ojiya on teh expressway we could see, in the daylight, more fo the damage the earthquake had caused. Several large houses had been skewed to one side, currently supported by poles so they don't come crashing down at anytime. I'm sure they will eventually be demolished. We did see the construction of some temporary housing. As I mentioned before, lots of people are still living in cars or tents and with the snow on it's way a better shelter will be needed. Hopefully, enough temporary housing will be constructed in time.

The meeting itself was quite interesting. We had a talk from one of the Board of Education about his thoughts on the importance of teaching English. Then we had a session for the Chuetsu ALTs to discuss the earthquake and any problems we might be having. I mentioned how I don't feel totally safe in my flat and how best to approach my supervisor about it.

We had lunch then exchanged activities (each ALT had brought 40 copies of an activity that worked well for them in the classroom, one copy for each other ALT). Jessica Loh then showed us a video of one of her team-teaching lessons. This was the best part of teh meeting for me. Jessica's lesson was really similar to one fo my lessons in Tsunan, from the to behaviour of kids to the amount of stuff you can do in a lesson. I had been worrying a fair bit about the content of my lessons, especially when I read in the handbook that I should "encourage debate between the students". Everytime I read this goal, I think "but my students don't have the English ability to debate, let alone have their own opinions to debate with".

We had a break and then a session for the first years to talk about problems we're having with teaching. It's strange because I was in a group with Debs and Annie, who I talk to all the time, but it was the first serious discussion we'd had about our jobs.

After the meeting, Debs led a Martin-guided convoy to Yamaya, the foreign food shop. Our convey was four cars long, three of which were filled entirely with Americans. They want to celebrate Thanksgiving tomorrow and they were trying to hunt down some cranberry sauce and other Amercan foods for their Thanksgiving dinner. Debs and I left them at Yamaya whilst we went on to Furamachi to find a winter coat for me and a birthday present for Annie (it's her birthday tomorrow too).

Debs left Niigata with Annie's present but I couldn't find a winter coat. Furamachi only has department tores that sell wintercoats in the region of £250 to £800. A bit too pricey for my liking. I wait til I find a big Uniqlo or Muji. I did find rolled oats in another foreign food store, so I'm looking forward to porridge for brekkie tomorrow.

On the way back we discussed the winter blues thing again. We decided that a disrupted hibernation routine wasn't the only thing making this year worse. We could also be feeling the affects of culture shock but attributing it to winter blues. Another factor could be delayed shock from the earthquake. I guess we tried to ignore what had happened and tried to get on as normal after the earthquake but with reminders such as Ojiya and the aftershocks, the earthquake has been impossible to ignore. So what do we do? How do we get rid of these blues? Maybe Prodigy at the weekend will help; it's going to be a massive way to boost seratonin so maybe it will.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Having it Large, Niigata-shi stylee

Just got off the phone with my Mum. I hadn't spoken to her much after the earthquake except to say that I was okay and not to worry. The main reason was that I had no Yahoo Phone to call home cheap enough for a decent call. When it was connected, about two weeks ago, it got really cold an I could never get up early enough to call before I went work or she went to bed.

I told Mum what's been happening after the quake and that we'd gone back to school a week or so ago so things were getting back to normal bit-by-bit. I also told her about Helen's visit and the earthquake that she felt when she was here. Things sound okay in Hull and I'm dead jealous that the UK got snow before Japan did. I was telling Mum about my winter blues and she's offered to send a hot water bottle, proper tea and custard creams. Cheers Mum! She's also going to put Lemsips and paracetamol in their too because I have a cold at the moment (well, it developed today).

The weekend was a bit large. Got to Hiten's place in Shibata around 8ish and we parked up and walked to Joe's. Had most of the Shibata crew out with us and Joe was mixing cocktails for everyone. We left around 9ish to go to a kareoke place in Shibata. By the time I got there and had another beer, the beers and cocktails from Joe's place were taking effect and I was taking to the stage with the mic. Time and songs flew past and before i knew it, Joe had passed out, Lindsey was spawled out on the sofa and it was almost time to go. I'd missed Hiten so I ended up going to Justin's place with Emma.

Woke up on Saturday with a call from Nick asking about meeting arrangements for Albirex. Justin cooked some breakie and drove me round to Hiten's so I could pick up Neil and the car and head to Niigata station. Picked up Nick and Emma. parked near the Big Swan and was in our seats just in time for kick-off.

The match was great. Either Albirex were playing well or FC Tokyo were really bad, but either way Albirex dominated most of the match and won 4-2.

After the match we went to Holly's to grab a shower before going out in the evening. It's Annie's birthday on Thursday and Neil will be taking her away next weekend so Debs wanted to do something special on Saturday. After a few stressful phonecalls we agreed to meet in an izakawa in Bandai around 8ish so nipped for a bit of food and booze to keep us going til then.

We had a nomihodai at the izakawa and waited for Debs to turn up with Annie. They didn't turn up til last orders but Neil, Nick, Holly, Rowan and I had a good time.

We moved on to Immigrants, but I don't remember much of that, and then the hardcore posse moved onto to Enjoy at 2ish. Started to sober up but still don;t remember much apart from watching a mute Troy and talking with some random American guy. Kate and Jason wante dto leave around 4.30ish, so we jumped in a taxi and headed back to Kate's place.

Sunday was a bit difficult. I'd stayed at Kate's place but my car and things were at Holly's on teh other side of town. So somehow I had to get from Kate's to the station to Holly's using buses in a town I don't know too well. Kate helped me out and made sure I got to the station and got on the right bus to Holly's; now all I had to do was get off at the right spot. I somehow managed it, recognising some fo teh streets we'd took teh day before and made it to Holly's and all my stuff. I still didn't feel up to driving long-distance, so I did a bit of shopping to give me time to recover.

When I did decide to hit the expressway, it started chucking it down. I pulled off at the next services, had a MosBurger and waited for teh rain to die down. I was back in Tokamachi by 7pm.

Then I called my Mum and wrote this entry.

Bye-bye Holly and Kieona

Woke up with no hangover and a sketchy recollection of what happened last night. In teh course of getting ready to leave the cabin, I'd been filled in on most of the blanks.

After I'd left school and bought the presents, I met with Annie, Aimee, Holly and Kieona. We bought drinks and snacks for teh evening and went to the BBQ place near Jusci for dinner. Then we stopped at my place to pick up my things before setting off for Belnatio. Thanks to a sketchy map and a lack of signs we almost got lost, but we found the place in the end. The cottages were these fantastic log cabins. They reminded me of Center Parcs.

The others, Kate in one car and Debs in Eric's car, had trouble finding Belnatio too but I managed to give directions. Once we'd all got in and had a few drinks Aimee gave Annie her birthday cake (Annie's birthday is in Thursday when Annie will be in Tokyo seeing off Holly and Keiona). Then we went for an onsen. Afterwards we all wore the cabin's yukata and continued drinking. I rather stupidly started on the shochu and was mixing it quite strongly. I lasted til around 4am before deciding to crash in one of the beds. Then I woke at 10am to find Eric, Kate, Annie and Kieona had left to got to an elementry school Christmas party in Muikamachi (Eric was Santa). Debs, Aimee, Holly and I tidied the cabin, checked out and took a walk around the grounds to build up an appeitite for lunchtime ramen.

After ramen, Aimee and Holly left to pick up Kieona. Debs and I said our final goodbyes to Holly and headed upto the skyline to look at the mountains. We were amazed to see so many landslides in Nate's valley. At certains points new road had been laid to repair the damage parts. At one point an entire road had ben re-routed around where a landslide had blocked the road and taken out a house.

The view at the top was still amazing. The colours of have changed though from greens to browns. There was snow on top of some mountains in the distance. So the cold weather is coming and I guess it won't be long before the snow falls and the roads up to this skyline will be blocked.

Monday, November 22, 2004


Raining when I left my flat so I drove into work. Feel as though the cold is on it's way out which is a surprise. Thanks CC Lemon! Might have a coldsore coming though :-(

Found out from Meguro-sensei that our team-teaching this afternoon was cancelled so I had the whole day to myself. First thing was to prepare an extra 20 copies of my TV schedule activity for the SHS ALT meeting tomorrow. Then I had to do my answer sheet for the CLAIR Japanese Self Study course. Must remember to post it this week. I had English club today so I had to prepare that. I thought I would have had some ideas over the weekend but my current lethargy wouldn't let me. So I resorted to looking through the Board of Education guidebooks I'd found during the post-quake tidy up. After a good hour or so I eventually found a couple of activities. The first was a warm-up; given a sheet with the alphabet on it, the students, in groups, had to think of the longest word they could for each letter. This worked well. The second activity was "Shipwrecked!". In groups, the students had to choose five items from a list that would help them survive on a desert island. This worked really well when I aksed each group "What did you take?"After they said an item, I asked "Why did you take it?" and the students had to answer. This was great because it gave an oppertunity for the students to think of an answer in free-form, that is without using a model sentence. It also gave an oppertunity for me to just talk about what I thought would be good things to take so they had an oppertunity to listen to me.

Time to leave school to get ready for tonight's send-off for Holly and Kieona. Annie has booked a couple of cottages at Belnatio, the hotel in the mountains where the Croatian football team trained during the World Cup in 2002. It's supposed to be really nice up there with luxurious cabins. Before then, I have to buy a goodbye pressie, collect stuff my stuff from the flat and meet Annie at the station. Best get a move on.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Dull British Cities

Had another solo-teach with the third years today. This week it was pure activities; no use of textbooks. I'd prepared a couple of activities, a warm-up and a wordsearch, and Komata-sensei had prepared an activity too. My warm-up activity worked really well. I gave the students a sheet with the question "what would you do with 200 million yen?" on it. The students had to write down their idea, then pass the sheet to someone else. Then I went round the class asking the students to read out their friend's idea. This worked well because more confident to reading out their friend's idea instead of their own idea and also, whenever an interesting idea came up I could ask the students more about the idea; what kind of car? where would you travel? Then we moved onto the British City wordsearch. I'd made the wordsearch the day before and tried it out. I didn't think it was too difficult, but then I wasn't Japanese student who wasn;t familiar with cities like 'Sheffield' or 'Norwich'. So the wordsearch took way to long to finish and we didn't have time to do Komata-sensei's activity.

Meguro-sensei's lesson was cancelled.

I went for ton-kotsu ramen up the road and now I'm getting ready to go pick Neil up on my way to Shibata. I took Hiten up on his invite from last week so Tonight should be a good one with most of teh ALT team up near Shibata.

Hanging on

I went climbing tonight for the first time since the quake. I showed my card at reception and I didn't have to pay to climb; I still can't believe that this wall is free! There were four other people on the walls; three lead climbing and one looking at the wall whilst holding a spanner. I started bouldering and pretty soon I was cursing myself for not being able to climb as well as I could in London. After a while one of teh lead climbers said hello and showed me a route that was challenging but easier than the overhang I was attempting. I cracked it after several attempts, but couldn't managed to do it again; I think it'll be a while before I've built up climbing stamina.

While I was bouldering, they guy with the spanner was modifying some of the routes on the overhang lead climb. When he was finished, he started to show me bouldering routes on all the walls. This was great; I was meeting more Japanese people and learning more about the climbing wall too. I also learnt the Japanese for hand ('te') and foot ('ashi'). I still feel like an idiot because I can't communicate properly, so wanting to know these people better is giving me more incentive to learn japanese.

To be honest, I really need a big incentive at the moment. I'm in the middle of a bad case of winter blues, coupled with delayed shock from earthquake and culture-shock. I feel lethargic and fed up with everything. When I don't go out, I'm in my flat wasting time on the internet or watching movies. Lessons last week were getting me down and I was starting to question why I came to Japan in the first place. One side of me things I'll feel like this forever and thinks that I should upsticks and go back to England. Another side thinks that this feeling is temporary and that if I stick it out I'll wonder what I was getting so melodramatic about.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

More ramen

Got back from Tsunan and had an MSN invite from Eric to go for food. We ended up at the ramen place near Jusco; my third time in four days. We chatted and again, like yesterday, I found out that another ALT has winter blues. We were thinking why this year's winter blues is worse than previous years. We decided that being away from home, where we can't follow our normal 'hibernation' routine, was the main reason. I'm craving stews, custard creams and apple crumbles and I can't get any of that over here.

Lessons today went well, mainly because of the restaurant activity. It worked like a dream again in Mineki-sensei's lessons. For ikarashi-sensei's first year class I made a picture menu and we used that with dialogue, which worked pretty well too. For her third-year class we played vocabulary games which teh students enjoyed. I doubt I'be be able to use the games again for Ikuta-sensei's third years.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Solo, part II

The second class for Toikuma-sensei's team-teach went like a dream. With teh lessons learnt from the previous two classes today, I was able to polish up my performance. The students were great again, listening to me more carefully than they would if a JTE was stood besides me.

I also had English club to do today. I had talked to Tokuma-sensei about Countdown last friday after I had used it in my Third-year team-teach. She was quite interested by it and was keen to use it for English Club. So I tried it out today. We warmed up with a round of 'I went to the shops and I bought...', then I explained vowels and constenants and then the rules of Countdown. It worked well. I extended the time-limit to around two minutes which gave the teams plenty of time to think of interesting words of around 5-6 letters. The groups were also smaller, around 3-4 students, which worked really well.

With Countdown this week, and Crosswits the other week, maybe I have found a new vein of English Club ideas. Perhaps I should try and find a book of word games for future reference.

Tuesday 16th,
Just got in from shopping and eating ramen with Debs. She had the idea of going out to the big 100 yen shop in Muikamachi to buy replacements for things that broke in the earthquake. I managed to find some nice glasses and mugs, so nice that I might just get rid of the old stuff even if it isn't broken. Obviously we chatted while we were out and Debs told me that she has been feeling fed-up and listless. I told her that I was too and we both agreed it was a comfort to know that our feelings were not unique. So we've agreed to try and get out more to try and get out of our rut.

Lessons were okay today. The students in Yanagi-sensei's lesson were as disruptive as ever. In Takahashi-sensei's lessons we did a restaurant theme. We played the same waiter game that Tokuma-sensei from Tokamachi Koko devised and the game worked really well. The students were happy to play waiter, it kept them in order and they practised their English. Job Done. We'll be using the activity again for tomorrow's lessons.

Sunday, November 14, 2004

Learning lessons for lessons

The lesson with Tachikawa-sensei went well. I re-ordered the lesson to fit with Tokuma-sesei's plan; interview first, then TV grid, then quiz show. It naturally works better because during the interview warm-up, I have time to prepare the TV grid game, then the quiz show can last as long as I need it too to end the lesson, so long as I don't run out of questions. The only thing wrong with this is if you run out of questions, which I did and had a minute to fill at the end. I have to give this lesson again this afternoon so I'll try and pad out the interview game a little or introduce the types of TV program to make teh lesson long enough.

The solo-teaching has definatley made some difference to my lessons; I'm not pissed off anymore when Tachikawa-sensei just stands there in his lessons.

Going Solo

My legs are killing me. The Niigata ALTs played in a tournament yesterday as part of our training for Saitama. We took part because one of the teams had dropped out and had asked Pete if he knew of any teams that could take their place. He suggested our team of gaijins and the organisers said yes.

So it was another drive up to Niigata for me. The tourney started at 9am so I drove up to Ryan's on the Saturday evening in time to see the Arsenal v Spurs derby (Ryan has Sky).

All fresh and relaxed, we got to the Big Swan training grounds on time. There was a problem though; two of our players had only just left Nagaoka and were on their way. That meant we had to start with just nine players. We were worried that our opposition in the first match might take advantage of this and hammer us 20-0. But it wasn't to be. We started strongly, perhaps a little too strongly judging by the amount of free-kicks awarded against us. We kept them out, started carving out chances for ourselves and eventually scored! Tom belted one in past their flapping keeper and we were 1-0 up. However, the referee was being far from impartial. Every slight touch that resulted in the opposition going to ground was a free-kick against us. Similar challenges against our players went un-punished. The same was true for handballs and offsides. Whenever an unfair decision went against us, we protested, so the ref gave more decicions against us. Hardly impartial, more incredably childish. The vicious circle cam to a head when the opposion clattered into Pete. The ball went out for a goalkick, which teh referee gave, but Pete was more that a little angry about the challenge and had a few words, in Japanese, with the referee. Taking offense, the referee changed the goal-kick into a corner! The opposition were as confused as we were. We managed to hold out, tempers intact, until teh final whistle. We'd won 1-0 and were through to the semis!

In the next match we had 11 players, but we were quieter than the previous match. We found it difficult to play against this new side two because they were playing some random 4-1-5 formation, which meant they had a gang of players in front of midfield who ran forward when the ball was played through. How do you mark against that? We managed to hold out til half time, when Harry turned up. He slotted into midfield and Joe changed things round a little and we coped better in the second half. It was 0-0 until seven minutes to the end of teh game. Rowan made a tackle in the 18 yard box that the referee thought was a foul so a penalty was awarded. They scored and we had five minutes to save the game. So from the kick-off, we went for goal and two mintues later, we got one! Jakomo had a shot from distance that went through the keepers arms an into the goal. We were ecstatic! We battled for the ball again from the kick-off and Tomo had a shot. It rebounded off the post into the path of Tom Rainey who put the chance away. A minute later the full time whistle blew; we'd won the game and were through to the final.

We must have sub-conciously left our best football til last. In the final, we started strongly and continued strongly playing the best football I'd seen us play ever! Our pressure paid off when we scored in the first half. At half time the only problem we could see with our play was not scoring enough goals. In teh second half we started strongly from the off and soon scored a second goal. My calves were starting to cramp up so I had to be substituted. Unfortunatley the opposition manage to score while I was hobbling around, but we were still winning 2-1. Rowan replaced me and slotted into left-back and had a fantastic game against their right-wing. We kept the pressure up all through teh second half making plenty of chances. Our finishing wasn't perfect so most chances went to the keeper, wide or hit the post. We kept plugging away and eventually we got our third goal! We played for time until teh final whistle blew. We'd played to make up the numbers and ended up winning the tournament!
There was no presentation ceremony; Pete was handed our prize, a golden football, in a green plastic bag. Still, we knew we were champions which was all that mattered. We had our photo taken in front of the Big Swan with our 'trophy' before driving back home to Tokamachi.

When I got to Tokamachi, I stopped off at the Ramen place near Jusco before going home, having a shower and going to bed.

When I was getting ready for work this mornign I got a call from Suzuki-sensei saying that Tokuma-sensei was ill. She asked if I wanted to reschedule the two lessons I have with Tokuma-sensei or if I wanted to teach them by myself. I almost chickened out, but I said I'd do the lessons by myself. The lesson's were already planned and postponing them would be too difficult. Besides, after Friday's solo lesson I felt pretty confident I could handle it.

So I got in to school, checked the materials and headed off for class 1-3. When I got to the class, I wasn;t sure it was the right class. I was expecting the students t be sat about chatting but instead they were working textbooks. They looked confused when I walked in (and so did I probably) but a few smiles could be seen from the students. When I explained that Tokuma-sensei was ill and that I was going to run the lesson by myself, they all smiled and put their textbooks away. I handed out namecards and did the 'pop quiz' warm up with teh noise makers. Then into the TV grid game. I somehow managed to explain this to them and they did the exercise perfectly. We checked the answers and we had ten minutes left. So I used the 'Ask somebody who...' exercise that Tokuma-sesei had me prepare last week which took us up to the bell. So the lesson went okay, but it could be improved. I think teh order Tokuma-sensei would work better so I'll try that in the lesson on TV with Tachikawa sensei at 12pm today.

Saturday, November 13, 2004

Down the Barber's

Just come back from having my haircut (my sidies were getting a bit bushy). I tried going to Steps, but they couldnt give me an appointment til 4pm and I have to leave for Niigata around 5pm. So I tried Kom, the place behind my apartment. There was a bit of a queue in there; a man had brought his daughters in for a haircut. I sat down beside him and his youngest daughter (two-ish and super-kawaii) while they were waiting for the older sister (five-ish) was having her hair cut. There was also an old lady having her hair cut so I was in for a bit of a wait. Luckily I had my book with me so rather than waste an hour on the web I got further into William Gibson's 'Pattern Recognition'. Eventually it was my turn and did the usual 'point-to-back-and-sides-and-say-mijikai' followed by 'point-to-top-and-say-chotto'. He seemed to understand me enough and set to work. To my surprise he tried to have a conversation with me and between his broken English and my limited Japanese, we managed quite well. He even shampooed my hair before and after the cut, as well as chipping in and thinning the hair as required. The cut cost a measly 3,000 yen, £15. Cheaper and more friendly than Soin, I think I might come back here again. Right, time to drive up to Ryan's place in Nishikawa, near Niigata. The ALT footy team have a tournament to play in tomorrow and the first match is at 9am. Sooner I get up there the sooner I can be watching the Premiership.

Friday, November 12, 2004


Solo team teach
Tachikawa's lesson moved to Thursday p2
Sort Omiyage

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Guy Fawkes, part II

I was back at Tsunan today for the first time since the earthquake. My car is tied up in business-trip red-tape so I had to take the bus. Today's lessons for Takahashi-sensei were themed on Guy Fawkes since, in England at least, last Friday was Guy Fawkes Day. I adapted the lesson from Komata-sensei's third years and illustrated my explaination of Guy Fawkes day with relevent pictures (e.g. King James 1, Houses of Parliament etc.). The students seemed quite interested in the whole gunpowder plot and some even asked questions like "Why did Guy Fawkes want to kill the King?". Yanagi-sensei's class were as unresponsive as ever.

When I got home I rang Nachi to see if Kawaji FC were training tonight. They weren't because they can't use the school hall yet. He said he'll ring me when they start up again. I hope it will be soon.

Sunday, November 07, 2004

Planes, Trains and Autozam

Went with Helen to Narita on Friday afternoon ready for her flight back to England. We grabbed some ramen from my favourite place on 117 before leaving. We were staying at the Holiday Inn Tobu Narita to make the journey to the terminal on Saturday as easy as possible. So we drove to Echigo Yazawa for the Shinkansen to Tokyo, then mainline train to Narita Airport and finally hotel bus to the hotel. We spent a cosy night in the hotel room watching 'The Fifth Element' while eating takeaway food and drinking beer from the local combini.

Saturday went as planned; packed and checked out the hotel by 11am, take shuttle bus to terminal 1, Helen checks in for plane early, spend time in the departure mall. We had breakfast at a French bakery place and then wandered round the shops. Found a camera shop that had a charger for my camera and bought it immediately. Helen bought another book for the plane having already the one she brought and half the one she'd taken from my flat (if only I could read so quickly). Managed to say goodbye properly this time before she went through to her gate. I wandered up to the observation deck and saw her plane take off.

Then it was the journey back to Tokamachi. Took the cheaper, slower train back to Tokyo where I changed onto the Shink to Echigo-Yazawa. I sent emails ahead to find out what everyone was doing on Saturday night. They were at Aimee's for a barbeque so I drove straight there.

I rang for directions at Kawanishi and when I turned the corner for Aimee's apartment I found Kieona waving me into a parking spot with a torch. Kawaii desu ne. The BBQ had finished but they'd saved me a plate with some pasta salad. I caught up with the news (more aftershocks in the last couple of days) and we wandered to seven-eleven for more drinks supplies, though since most of us were driving we could only stock up on Natchan. We did stop off at a park on the way back and relived our childhood by riding the see-saw. Back at Aimee's we chilled at started to make origami before it was time to go home.

Sunday I got up late. Debs popped round to pick up her camera and I headed up to Uchino, in my wee Autozam, to play footy with Joe and the lads. The drive took my past Ojiya and I could see first hand how lucky Tokamachi was. Like in Tokamachi, the houses still stood and most of the damage was to the roads. The main road from Tokamachi to the north of the prefecture, Route 117, was pockmarked with patches of gravel. These were places where the damaged tarmac had lifted away and replaced with a temporary surface. New tarmac had been laid in places but mainly as ramps onto bridges which had been raised up several inches from the road. The most disturbing sight though was the effect of the landslides. In two places, the ground under route 117 had subsided into the valley and had taken the tarmac with it. The temporary measure here was to cut back the shrubs and lay a single lane of gravel parallel to the broken road. It was a little scary to drive on this and look down at the fallen road. At Ojiya, police where blocking traffic from accessing central Ojiya to prevent voyeurs hinder the repair efforts. Still, there was more damage to be seen on teh bypass. The most astonishing sight was the manhole covers. The concrete tunnels under these covers had been shaken two feet above the surface of the paths and roads (or, perhaps, the paths and roads had been shaken two feet below the manhole covers).

I couldnt see any buildings that had collapsed or had been demolished, but Jusco car park was full of large tents housing people who feared their homes would fall if another quake struck.

Once I had got through Ojiya and was on my way to Nagaoka, the road improved and their were fewer signs of eartquake damage.

I got to Uchino a little after 3pm. The mini-tourney had started so I was put on one of the teams that werent playing at the time. The matches were on a Futsal court. It's on an artificial grass surface that actually looks like grass and doesn't give the burns astroturf gives you. It was quite a fun little kick around which was just what I needed after my earthquake-imposed football celibacy. After the match we discussed fund-raising ideas for the tour to Saitama in January and plans of when and how to get there (by coach on the Friday being the general concensus).

I gave Rowan and Luke a lift back to Nagaoka which made teh journey back more interesting. I could have done with some support as I went back through Ojiya and route 117; it was a bit scary driving in teh dark knowing that there were gravel patches in the road but not quite being able to see them until you were on them. But I got back in one piece. Internet still not connected. Helen rang to tell me she got back okay and so had her luggage. Then I finished the night watching TV as prep for Meguro-sensei's lesson today.

Today I only had one lesson, period 6 with Meguro-sensei. We did Lesson 7 from teh textbook, "What Did You Watch?", which was all about television. Meguro-sensei used the textbook as the source material for the lesson, going through the sections, explaining to the students and using me as a tape recorder. I don't really mind this too much because the students actually seem to be listening to Meguro-sensei. She adds little jokes (at least I think she does) to her explainations and this manages to engage the students without having to distract them with activities. We did do one activity were I told the students about six programs I watched last night and they try to identify the program from a TV schedule. So essentially the activity was a listening exercise.

There was no English Club today so I went home early. This turned out to be a good thing because when I got back I found that my broadband was back! All I need to do now is read through all the mails that have been sent and reply to them.

This evening I went out with Nate and Eric to meet Alex and his girlfriend. I'd bumped into Alex when I went out for lunch and he told me that he was planning to go to Sabbath for dinner and if teh other ALT's fancied going too. Sabbath was closed so we went to Gormet House instead. The food at Gormet House was great as usual. Alex introduced us to his favourite, tongue, which was delicious. Alex's girlfriend, Yuki, was quite shy but really nice. She works at Lupin so we promised to go there on Friday to say hi.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Back to school with a bang and a whimper

First day of teaching today since the earthquakes. Had Komata-sensei's third year class today. I'd prepared some activity's based around Guy Fawkes, since today is Guy Fawkes Day. To be honest, there isn't a lot you can do with Guy Fawkes.At least with Halloween and Christmas, there are all sorts of traditions and stories behind those traditions. With Guy Fawkes, we have bonfires and fireworks; one to symbolise his execution, the other to symbolise the failed gunpowder plot. And that's it. Still, Komata-sensei at least seemed interested so I hope the students were too, at least more than they let on.

I also had Merguro-sense's lesson too. We hadn't had time to prepare too much for this lesson so we did a quick "What should I do activity?" were the students pretend they're in the situation where they meet me just after the earthquake and they have to tell me what to do. It didn't really work too well but it filled the lesson.

Right, time to head home and get ready to take Helen to Narita.

**Snow Blog**

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