Martin In Japan

Our Man In Japan

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Attack of the Politicians

It's teh start of Golden Week, ten days to myself to sleep, relax and take things easy. Well that was teh plan. From 9am this morning I've been subject to more frequent, even louder promotion for the local election candidates. I managed to sleep through til 10.30 (earplugs are great), but once I was awake I've had announcements every five minutes or so.

And now they;ve laid seige to my apartment! The restuarant next-door is teh base of one candidate, and now he seems ot have invited every other candidate to give speechs outside my apartment!!

This might go on until the election on Sunday, so I'm going to escape and head to Niigata for teh weekend.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Finally been paid!!

And with a furkomi to a Tokyo bank account, I should be definately going to Fuji Rock this year!

The weather is gorgeous today, too warm for a jumper. I'll have to scrub my shirts to get rid of the yellow patches this Golden Week.

Aye, Golden week is nearly here. A whole ten days of school! It starts tomorrow so today I'm finding it impossible to concentrate on anything. I have no major plans for Golden Week, other than take time out and relax. I've been bombing about school and Japan since Christmas so a calm week would be nice. If I feel adventurous I might go to Kanazawa or Nikko and see the parks and temples there. If I stay in Tokamachi, I can enjoy the late cherry blossoms and the Kimono Festival that starts on Tuesday. At the very least, I want to feel ready for the summer. If the start of this year is anything to go by, it'll be September before I know it, witnessing my mates getting married and thinking "Where did the summer go?"

Tuesday, April 26, 2005


The morning birdsong from last week has been replaced by polite Japanese broadcast by loadspeaker mounted on minivans.

Tokamachi is currently in the grip of election fever. The recent merger of Tokamachi-shi and surrounding villages as meant that a new Mayor must be elected for Tokamachi-Super-Shi. And with a new mayor comes a new assembly, so there are elections for that too.

So, what are Japanese Election Campaigns like? Well, from what I can see, and I see a fair amount since one of the candidates is using the restaurant next-door as a base, it involves promotion posters displayed on special noticeboards all around town. It also involves minivans equipped with loadspeakers persuading those within earshot to vote for their candidate. The minivans are also full of campaigners whose job it is to wave at anyone they see. Sometime the minivans stop and teh campaigners stand on street corners waving at cars driving by. I'm sure it's all very polite, even if it does look a little bit demented.

So how are things getting on back home? Well, I did spot this on the BBC website ' Prescott criticises roof protest'. Wish I was back home to see it!

Monday, April 25, 2005

A quiet one

Yes the lack of pay had put a dampener on any major weekend plans, but I was ready for a quiet weekend anyways. Having raced around for teh last few months, and with Golden Week and any impending travel that would bring, I thought it best to stay still this weekend, or at the very least travel at sub 120km/hour speeds.

Friday night Debs drove me and Kate Dooling to see the play 'Two' performed by two Jets, Beth and Kiwi Dave. It venue was Memory in Takada, a small bar with a stage and an atmosphere similar to the Adelphi in Hull. The play was really good, with both Beth and Dave giving great performances acting the parts of various characters.

As well as seeing teh Joetsu Jets for the first time in ages, I also got an opportunity to meet Neil's parents. They'd based themselves in Shijuku for the two weeks they stayed here and had come up to Joetsu to see Neil's apartment and school. While I resisted all attempts to embarass Neil, his Dad said he'd seen the photos on my website. So, job done.

Debs drove us back on Friday night so I had a Saturday lie-in for teh first time in weeks. It was great to wake up naturally without an alarm. I answered a few emails, chatted with James on MSN (he's planning to quite scuba diving teaching for a while and go back to the UK for a bit) and eventually decided that since it was a nice day, I had to spend it outside.

So I headed up to Nagaoka and met my friend Harumi. We went up to Yukyuzan Park where there were lots of sakura (cherry blossom) trees. Once we found somewhere to park, we walked towards the park entrance and bumped into Gina. She was having a bit of trouble with her car and was waiting for someone to come and sort it out. We waited with her, her car got sorted and we headed for the sakura.

The steps into the park took you up to a shrine, and then a row of stalls leading you to big clearing. Lots of groups of people where here enjoying 'hanami', a picnic beneath the sakura. We carried on and came to Nagaoka Castle, which looked very Japanese because it was surrounded by cherry blossoms. On the way back to the car we found some animal enclosures with various animals and birds, the favourites being the monkeys.

After the park I headed across to Joetsu for Dan's leaving do. Dan is a private ALT whose contract runs out soon so he has to leave, even though he still wants to stay. We all met round his flat before heading to Nick's bar and Nova for a night of drink and a bit of dancing.

On Sunday I met up with Keiko and we went to the cinema and saw 'Constantine'. I'm a fan of teh 'Hellblazer' comics on which teh film is based and was worried about the quality of the adaptation. To be honest, it wasn't entirely true to 'Hellblazer', but it wasn't a completely bad film. Sometimes, if you squinted, you could almost believe that Keanu was John Constantine.

So a quiet weekend, though I feel like I could do with another couple of days to relax. Good job Golden Week is soon.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Third Time Unlucky

Couldn't start my car again. I;d left the lights on and drianed the battery. Third time this has happened.

I was lucky in a way because my car was at the school. I headed back to the English room, explained what had happened to Haruyo and she was able to ring around and try and find some jump leads. We eventually found some in teh Ski Club's minibus and managed to start my car.

So my first purchase with my advanced salary? Jumpleads from Musashi. Now I don't think I'm daft enough to leave my lights on for a fourth time, but I'm all prepared now, just in case.

Poverty Stricken

I had been looking forward to today quite eagerly. It's 21st of the month so it's pay day. I overspent a lot when my brothers visited earlier in the month so over teh last week I've come dangerously close to having zero yen in my account. And with direct debits due to go out over teh next week, getting paid is quite essential.

So you can imagine my horror when one of my teachers takes a call from teh school ofice to say that I won;t be paid until next week. Apparently I'm the only one in teh school who will be paid a week late; my wages are manually transfered by the school every month but they forgot to do it this month. Just brilliant. And I thought I was becoming much more a part of teh school too.

So, my initial panic was "Shit, I don't have any money at all. How am I going to eat, pay bills, drive to Tsunan?" and I think it showed. The teacher who took the call rang back the school office and arranged for them to advance me 50,000 yen (£250) until I get paid next week. So I can pay for my car rental and deposit some of it into my account to cover any bills that come out this week.

Of all the months this could happen, it had to happen on the one month that I have no money at all. For the last eight months I've had the money I brought over just sat in my account for emergencies. The one month I decide to spend it is the one month I don't get paid. Sod's Law eh?

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Crocodile Saves the Day

It;s Tuesday so I was teaching at Tsunan Koko. It was Tsunan's Foundation Day so the students were treated to a history speech by teh new principal, complete with powerpoint presentation. I was hoping for more pictures, but there were only slides with Japanese, so I'm none the wiser about local history.

To accomodate the history lesson, lessons today were ten minutes shorter, which made teh day easier for me. The lessons carried on the same 'Introduction' theme from last week and we had teh students swap papers and introduce their neighbour. Im trying to encourage the students to be assertive and confident, so I asked for voluteer pairs. In each class, one or two pairs would volunteer but the rest were too shy. So the age old JET problem: how do I choose a pair at random without appearing too biased? And the solution? Use a crocodile.

The crocodile in question is a toy Mana-sensei has had on her desk all year. You open it's mouth and then take it in turns to press down one of it's teeth. If you're unlucky, the mouth will snap shut and the crocodile will bite you.

So, since teh students would volunteer, we used teh crocodile to choose for us. And it worked a treat. The students became more genki though scared that they might trigger the mouth. It definatley got their attention, and teh attention of teh rest of the class. Most important of all, the pairs that the crocodile choose were happy to stand up and introduce their partner. Job done.

Saturday, April 16, 2005



Thursday, April 14, 2005

Spring is getting here

There are still snowpacks all over Tokamachi but they are dirty and quite ugly, especially since they sit upon concrete or on withered grass that last saw the light of day in December. So walking around Tokamachi has been pretty depressing for the last month or so; since it last snowed.

But things are slowly changing. The sun is shining and the weather is getting warmer, so I'm saving a lot on kerosene. My snow jacket is too warm so I'm back to wearing my denim jacket. While I was in Niigata I could see flowers starting to bloom and trees starting to bud (but I haven;t seen cherry blossoms yet). And this morning, I woke up and, over the continual noise of traffic, I could hear birds singing!

What a lovely way to start the day?

Friday, April 08, 2005



Thursday, April 07, 2005

Tsunan Opening Ceremony

Tsunan had it's opening ceremony today. The day followed a similar pattern to yesterday; turn up to work, have an opening ceremony for the second and third years, have lunch, have a welcome ceremony for the new first years.

Again, the opening ceremony was a bog standard affair with teh teachers attending in thier normal clothes. I was surprised to see a familiar face among the six new teachers; it was a teacher from Tokamachi Koko! He had a graduating third year class last year so I guess now he had to move on to another school.

At lunch I had to move my car to allow space for all the parents attending the welcome ceremony in teh afternoon. Not too much of a hassle since I had to use my car to hget lunch and get my suit jacket out of the car too. You could tell from the apperence of the parents that the Welcome Ceremony was going to be a dressed up ceremony.

The Hall had been decorated with white and red curtains around teh room. The Japanese flag and the school flag formed a backdrop on the stage. Teh school bonsai tree was also on display. Every teacher was dressed in smart suits and the principal was wearing a tailed jacket; always a sign of a dressed up ceremony.

Music started to play and the first class of new students walked in, lead by their homeroom teacher. To my surprise, the new homeroom teacher was Kato-sensei, the PE teacher who comes to the office. The nest new class was lead in by Ikarashi-sensei, one of my fellow English teachers. The third new class was lead by the Home Economics teacher who did the English cooking before Christmas. All three teachers looked very proud to lead their new class, even if every student looked really nervous.

A roll call was made and every student stood when their name was read. The principal gave a speech. A representative of the student's gave a speech too and then the classes where lead back to their homerooms.

I came back to the office and set about finishing teh phonics cards and preparing for the first set of lessons.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

"Hey! What happened to March?"

Well, March was particularly busy for me, what with teh end of school and the impending arrival of my brothers. Fact is, I made some full blog entries, which I've added. The rest are in note form, which need to be fleshed out. Also, I didn;t blog while my brothers were here. So what do I do? Do I work and try and write up the last month? Or do I restart with April, postpone March and write it up later? Well, as you can see, I've taken the latter option. I'll link back to March when I've got round to completing it. And I'll also link to the special "Mark and D in Japan" page I plan to write when it gets written.


Tokamachi Opening Ceremony

In Tokamachi today instead of Tsunan. Reason being that Tokamachi has it's opening ceremony today, and Tsunan has its ceremony tomorrow. Not wanting to miss either, I asked to switch teh days.

I'm always interested in the ceremonies at the schools. On major factor is that it's one of the rare times the whole school gets together in the same room. It helps me feel like part of my school just being there, even if I can't understand what's being said. Another attraction is that there's something typically Japanese about the whole affair and it interests me.

Today I was treated to two ceremonies, each different. The first was your average school ceremony, this one was the opening ceremony of the new year. You can tell it's an average ceremony because the hall is not decorated and the students sit on the floor. And the teachers don't dress up. The opening ceremony was very similar to the closing ceremony; there's bowing, the Kocho sensei gives a speech, there's more bowing and then the band plays the school anthem, complete with the three students on stage doing hand movements.

The second ceremony of the day was the Welcome Ceremony, which welcomes the new students to the school and is a more formal ceremony on par with the graduation ceremony. The hall was decorated with red and white curtains. The stage sported a japanese flag and school flag. The school bonsai was on display. And the teachers were dressed up. To me, this last detail was a cheeky little move; an hour ago the teachers were in their scruff, now they're all suited and booted and I'm stood there in my jumper thinking "if only I could get my suit jacket and tie out the car". But it was too late so I had to grin and bear it. In front of the teachers. And the new students. And the new students' parents. It wasn't the end of the world, but a little forewarning would have been nice.

So, the ceremony itself. The school anthem was played, but over the PA rather than with a live band. When it had finished, the Kocho-sensei said a few words and left the stage. Then a rollcall was taken like in teh graduation ceremony; the homeroom teacher of each class would read out the names in the class, and the students would stand up and shout "Hai!" one by one until teh whole class was read. Then the Kocho-sensei gave a long speech, bracketted by lots of bowing. After that a student went on stage and gave a speech. More bowing. Then teh homeroom teachers stood infront of the students and were introduced by teh MC. More bowing. Then music was played of teh PA and the homeroom teachers led their classes back to the homerooms, each student taking their chair back with them. And that was it.

After I came back to the staff room and carried on preparing for teh first lessons. I went to see Homie-sensei and Miyazaki-sensei in preperation for lessons on Friday. Both lessons are about introductions and for the third-year class I'm drawing on teh stuff I created for my intro lessons in September, which makes it a lot easier since I don't have to create anything new. For Miyazaki-sensei's lesson, we're creating an new activity. This will be the first lesson I have with teh students, but also the students are still getting to know each other. So we've prepared a big introduction activity so students can get to know other students and not just me. It's a simple activity that should be easy to prepare and could take all lesson to complete. Perfect since I don;t have much time to prepare anything anyways.

Also noticed today that winter is probably over. Yes, we have massive snowpacks all over, but I left my snow coat at home and wore my jacket to work. In the office, we had the stove off and the window open and I didn't feel cold. Also, I felt stupid wearing my walking boots when I went to buy dinner; everyone else has given up wearing snowboots. Spring is here I think.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Printer-busting ticket order

Just got back from buying Albirex tickets from 7-11. I think I surprise the staff a bit when they realised I wanted 12 tickets. They checked with me at leats three times, "ju-ni mai, daijobu?" to which I replied "Hai, Watashi to ju-ichi tomodachi desu". Took a while for them to print off twelve tickets. I thought their little printer had broken at one point, but it had just run out of paper. Amusing as it was, I might try and avoid buying twelve tickets in one go in future. Good news is that I managed to get tickets for the North Stand where the choir, drums and big flags live. Looking forward to it already. Just found out I need to get an extra ticket. Thirteen people! Biggest group yet.

Also sorted out some other plans for the weekend too. Neil wants a night out in Tokamachi so he's coming over on Friday. I'll also give him a lift to Niigata on Saturday for the Albirex match so, Saturday morning, I have time to spank his arse at Winning Eleven 8. My footy weekend is complete!

Talking of footy, I off to Keiko's to watch teh Premiership Review. I read about the Bowyer/Dyer bust up on the web and can't wait to see the footage. TTFN

Holidays at Tsunan

At Tsunan today. Like Tokamachi, even though it's the holiday some students are in school for club activities. The teachers were in preparing for the new year. I noticed that there were fewer lockers in the students entrance than there was a week ago. I think this year there are less students starting than in previous years. I dont know if it has anything to do with is but in a couple of years Tsunan Koko will be turning into a joint JHS/SHS and this year will be the last SHS intake. What happens to my job next year, when there will be no first years to teach, I don't know.

Still, I know I have a job this academic year. With this in mind I set about completing Ikarashi-sensei's Phonics Display. Pretty much all done, apart from a card for "mother, [th]", which I'll finish for Thursday.

Response to my email yesterday has been good. There will be twelve of us going to Albirex this Saturday so a decent crowd. Let's hope we can get into teh North Stand with teh other nutters.

Monday, April 04, 2005

Up and running

Back to school after a week away with my brothers. It's still teh holidays but some students are in school for club activities, especially the music club who were playing down the corridor.

When I got to my desk I found my new weekly schedule. I'll now teach with four of the same teachers as last year, plus two others; Homie-sensei and Miyazaki-sensei. So a bit of consistancy and a bit of a change. The biggest change is that I now have two lessons a week with the third-years, this year with Homie-sensei instead of Komata sensei.

I also met the new English teacher, Sugimoto-sensei. She used to work at Tokamachi Sogo Koko (Debbie's school), but has moved to Tokamachi Koko to cover for Tokuma-sensei (on sick-leave). I didn't get much chance to meet her (she had a lot of meetings and I was busy preparing for the new year), but from what Debs has said, I'm looking forward to working with her.

After school I had to go to Muikamachi Interchange and collect my car. I'd parked the car there on Saturday when my brothers and I took the coach to Tokyo. I returned last night and found that I couldn't start my car. A bit of button fiddling in the dark and I realised that I had left my headlights on all weekend. Flat battery, no starting. It was 8.30pm when I realised this so the nearby garage was closed. I tried to get help from the Interchange staff, but all I got from him was a phone number for some bloke who hung up within five seconds. Cut a long story short, Keiko came to pick me up and I left the car at teh interchange. So today, I asked my supervisor for some help. She rang the garage, explained what was wrong. They said if I could get to the garage, they could help. And true to their word they did. Spare battery, jump leads and 2,000yen later and my car was running.

When I got home I sent a mail out to see if anyone is up for Albirex on Saturday. I'll see what replies I get and buy the tickets tomorrow. We also have a footy training session on Sunday for the Tochigi footy tournament, so it's turning itno a bit of a footy weekend. All that's missing is a Winning Eleven sesh.

Also I went to the gym tonight to resume my fitness training. The good news is even after two weeks with my brothers my running fitness is fine. Only worry is that after two weeks of driving I've strained my achilles a little. Still, nowt an ankle support can't solve. Bring on the tourney!

**Snow Blog**

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