Martin In Japan

Our Man In Japan

Sunday, April 30, 2006

Bon Voyage, < sniff >

I said goodbye to Rebecca and Sharon today at Narita airport. Their two week adventure in Japan had come to an end and they had to return to England. Keiko and I joined them for their last weekend in Japan and we had a great time together in Shibuya and at the footy.

I would be great if they could stay for longer, but I'm grateful for the time I could spend with them while they visited. We had such a great time together and they had a great time on their own while they travelled to Hiroshima. I think they can understand a little more about why I like this country and why I want to stay another year. I hope that the stories they'll tell back home can persuade more of my mates to come over for visits.

I love Japan and want to show my mates why. And I love my mates and want to show Japan why.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Mind-boggling efficiency

Today the Yamanote line in Tokyo was shut down because of a problem with the tracks. Five hours later, it was open again and train services had resumed (more detail can be found in this newspaper article).

It's amazing. If anything like this had happened in England, the line would be shut for days (and evenryone affected would be 'working at home'). But not in Japan. The incident happened, then a team (or rather legion) of construction workers fixed the problem before the evening so the trains could resume for the rush hour.


Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Insert your own "old dog, new tricks" pun here

This clip is nowt to do with me, except it's from a Japanese TV show.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Tokyo Drift

I need to get round to blogging about teh weekend in Tochigi and about Rebecca and Shaorn being here, but I must tell you about this new trailer I just saw for this The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift. Now, I haven't seen any of the FnF movies, but from what I can gather, the plot is always vacuous and second place to showing off flashy cars and babes. From the trailer, 'Tokyo Drift' looks set to continue this trend, with the added gimmick of being set in Japan. So I expect plenty of Shijuku/Shibuya neon, serious j-guys in black leather and orange j-girls hobbling round in pretty but impractical shoes.

Thursday, April 13, 2006


Ive been looking forward to today for ages. sharon and rebecca, two mates from home, will arrive at narita this afternoon. im on my way to narita now. the shink has just emerged from the gunma tunnel and once again im suprised that there is no snow at all on this side of the mountains. there are quite a few cherry blossom trees around so i hope they are in bloom in tochigi so s&r can see them.
theyve got a busy two weeks ahead of them. first tokyo and tochigi. then toka before matsumoto and kyoto. theyll then go onto hiroshima and then make their way back to tokyo via osaka. and theyre doing it all by themselves! i think thats pretty brave of them. im a bit worried theyll have trouble with language, but the japanese are so friendly and welcoming that im sure theyll be fine.
i hope theydo have a great time so they go home and persuade everyone else to come over!

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

School Dinners

I just had my first Japanese school dinner. And, contray to the reports from most JHS ALTs, it wasn't that bad either.

The whole process is quite interesting too. The food is cooked off-site and delivered in big, steel, wheeling cabinets. At 12.40pm, preperation starts. A group of students arrive at the lunch room with some supervising teachers. Between them, the students and the teachers (and today, me) set up the tables and chairs, put a tray before each seat and then load each tray with the meal. Some students, the ones wearing aprons and white hats, dish the food into bowls. The others take the bowls and put them on the trays. By 1pm, everything is done and the rest of the school is allowed to come into the lunch room and take a seat. When everyone is sat, we all say 'itadakimasu' and start.

I was sat with a group of students. I introduced myself to them, but they were too shy to reply. So I sat and eat my meal, catching the odd Japanese word so I could tell they were talking about me. Eventually, one of them plucked up the courage to say 'Hello' to me. I replied 'Hello, how are you', which sparked a conference between the students as they tried to work out the right reply. 'I'm fine' they eventually said, and then they went back to their meals. So that's my baseline, by summer I want them telling me what they did at the weekend.

The bell went at 13.20pm; the signal for end of lunch. The students that had been chatting a bit too much hadn't finished so they started ramming the food down. The students that had finished said 'Gochisosama deshita' and started stacking empty bowls and plates ready to take them back to the steel cabinets. Another bell went at 13.25pm, and lunch was over.

So that was lunch. I'll have two of those a week until summer, so plenty of time to broaden their English and plenty of Japanese listening practise for me too!

New home for the fat fish

It's taken a while (at least five trips) but yesterday I've found the perfect new tank for Albi and Rex and I bought it. Last night I washed it out, cleaned th3 new gravel and filled it with water. The chlorine should have evaporated from the water by tonight so it will be safe Albi and Rex to move in. I think th enew tank will be great for them. It's quite long so they'll have loads of room to swim up and down, instead of just going round in circles. I'll need to buy some more plants to make the tank more interesting too.

As you can see in the photo, the new tank is much bigger than the old one and it needs to be. Albi and Rex have grown so much over the last five months, look:

The waiting game

I think a key to enjoying Japan is patience. There are ways things must be done, and you have to wait for that way to work it's course. I guess all us JETs were exposed to that early on during the application process, and I'm reminded of it everyday. The current major examples are the changes to my job now, and the changes to my job in August.

Next week I will have my first lessons at Tsunan Chuto, but I'm still waiting on a lot of crucial information, namely when are my lessons? and what will we cover in the first lesson? The schedule was messed up last week when both schools realised they'd double-booked me. I'm hoping that's been changed for this week, but I haven't been told yet. We didn;t talk about teh lessons last week because of the schedule problem, so I don't know what to prepare. I'm guessing an introduction lesson will be my first lesson, but will the stuff I've prepared be too high a level for the students? How much do JHS know? I'm sure the answers will come to me in due course.

The other issue is, what will happen to my job in August? The prefecture's education budget has been drastically reduced this year meaning the prefecture is restructuring it's employment of ALTs. It's pretty complicated, but the upshot for me is that I will be still be employed by the prefecture from August BUT my base school will change. My new base school could be one of nine schools around the prefecture, but I won't find out until mid-May. The base schools are also responsible for JET accomodation, so a change in base school could also mean a change in apartment. Where will I teach? Where will I live? I don't know, but I'll find out eventually.

So many unknowns, and so much time until I find the answers. I could stress and worry until all my questions are answered, but that's be a waste of two months. Best to keep myself busy and enjoy the current state until it changes.

Those big concrete pillars in the middle of nowhere

Sometimes Japan has a 'not quite finished yet' look about it. There are always new buildings under-construction in cities and now that it's April, the annual 'Men with Flags' roadshow gets under way (I can't work out if their purpose is to mend roads or make me late). One of the biggest examples is the chain of concrete pillars in Iiyama, Nagano and Myoko, Niigata. Signs on them say that they are for the new Hokuriku Shinkansen line, but I haven't seen any work on them in the last year or so. I've always wondered why, then I read this article today which might explain a little about the slow progress.

"Japan's Privatised Rail Networks" - Daily Yomiuri

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Brand New School

The Japanese School year runs from April to March. The time in-between, Spring Break, is far from being a holiday for Japanese teachers. The annual merry-go-round takes place, so some teachers have left my schools and have been replaced by new ones. While this is quite a sad time because I'll be saying goodbye to some great friends, there is a chance that I could make some more great friends over teh next year. And any excuse and enkai is always welcome!

This week, both my schools will have opening ceremonies; Tokamachi Koko on Thursday, and Tsunan Koko on Friday. I will also start teaching at one of the newest schools in the prefecture; Tsunan Chuto. Niigata prefecture is restructuring its education system and a major part of that are Chuto schools (combined JHS and SHS).

The strangest thing about Tsunan Chuto is it's location; it is in the same building as Tsunan Koko. Two schools in the same building. For the most part, I think both schools will share some facilities; the hall, the students entrance, the gym etc. But, both schools will have their own seperate facilities; each have their teachers room, homerooms and a new lunchroom was built for the Chuto.

Yesterday was the official Enrolment Ceremony for the new students of Chuto. The hall was decroated with red and white curtains. The Japanese flag and school bonsai were on stage. The new school flag and school standard were displayed on stage too, both showing teh new school's embellem; a captial 'T' surrounded by four tulips. The ceremony started and the homeroom teachers lead in the students who took their seats. Everyone stood and the Japanese national anthem was played. Then each students name was read in turn for each class. The Principal of Tsunan Koko will also be the pricipal of Tsnan Chuto, so he read a speech to the students and their parents. Then there were speeches from four men, who I assume are school governers. Then the new school anthem was sung. It sounded very different from other school anthems that I heard. The words sounded quite difficult and the anthem was quite long. Maybe I'll get used to it the more I hear it. Then the ceremony ended and I came back to the office.

I wanted to meet the new teachers of Chuto afterwards, but they were having meetings with the students and their parents. This morning the students have had tests so I've arranged to meet the teachers this afternoon. Then I'll find out when have to start teaching JHS students.

Monday, April 03, 2006

When I'm old, I want a sense of humour too.

Reading around BBC News website, I found an article about the Time Zone in Sri Lanka. The article has a quote from Arthur C Clarke so they put this picture in the article:

His t-shirt reads "I invented the satellite and all I got was this lousy t-shirt".

The geek in me was in stitches.

**Snow Blog**

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