Martin In Japan

Our Man In Japan

Monday, July 24, 2006

Not quite Bangkok

I'm on my way home for my brother's graduation. The cheapest ticket I
could find was with Thai Airlines and it includes a four hour stop off
in Bangkok Airport. And how bored am I?

I tried to liven things up by remembering half an hour after leavingthe
first plane that I'd left my jacket onboard. I went to the Thai
Airlines desk and they found it and returned it to me in 20 minutes.
Yay! Since then I've taken a walk along the ful length of the departure
lounge (Duty Free, flower shop, snack shop, book shop, Duty Free,
flower shop, snack shop, book shop etc etc). I could have bought any
number of luxury goods, but a simple black ballpoint was unavailable.
I'll have to write in red now.

I had some food and a beer, then found this internet shop.

I'm so bored.

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Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Halfway sorted

Last night I was shown around an apartment in Tokamachi. If all goes well, I'll be moving into that apartment block from the beginning of August. The relief I felt last night after viewing was immense.

It's a private apartment that was found by the guy at Tsunan office. He showed me a map of where the apartment was and a plan of the interior (two rooms, plus dining/kitchen; a 2DK). The arranged a viewing at 7pm and I went with my supervisor. An hour many many questions later, I was left to walk away and sleep on it. My decision this morning is to take the apartment.

The choice is pretty straight forward. The main bonus is the ambient noise level. The neighbourhood is a long way from the nearest major road, so it's a lot, lot quieter. I can see me enjoying many nights of peaceful sleep from August. As for the rest of the features, the new apartment is larger than my current apartment and has two tatami rooms. The dining/kitchen is a lot bigger and there's more storage. The bathroom is a bit old but has a shower. It has a garage so less snow to shovel in winter. The rent will probably be around the same as the current apartment. Maybe the only drawback is that it has a traditional japanese-style squat toilet instead of a western-style seat toilet. But if that's the sacrifice I have to make to have peace and quiet, then I think that's a bargain.

So, I have to ring my supervisor and tell him my decision this morning. He'll then ask Tsunan office to start making the arrangements for the contract. Then, the main question will be what have Tokamachi Office decided for my current apartment? Can I keep my things there until I return from England, or will I have to move everything out by Sunday? And if I have to move everything, where do I move it to? And can it be done over the weekend?

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

School's out for Chuto

Just had my last lesson of the semester with Tsunan Chuto. I won't be with those students until September and I think I'm going to miss them. They're a great set of kids and they're always enthusiastic, even when an activity doesn't go as well as planned.

The only lessons I have now until I go home on Monday are five lessons with Tokamachi Koko tomorrow. they'll be my final lessons ever with Toka Koko and I'm trying not to think about how upset I'll be at the end. In the last lesson I had with class 1-5 I was presented by goodbye cards from EVERY student. Each card was hand made and you could tell the students had put a lot of effort into them. They will be something I'll treasure.

It's strange to think that I won't be going to Tokamachi Koko anymore after this week. Stranger still to think I'll be in the same situation with Tsunan Koko and Chuto this time next year while remembering how quickly the year has gone by. One year to appreciate my schools as much as possible AND try to work out what to do next year. Or, more likely, one more year to bury my head in the sand.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Please sort it out, please!

When I found out which schools I will be teaching at from August, I found out that my base school would change. It would also mean that the contract for my apartment would have to change from one school to the other. I thought this would be the best opportunity to move out of my noisy, shakey apartment so two months ago I asked if I could change apartments.

Initially I was optomistic after my supervisors and the school offices agreed in principle to me changing apartments. Two months down the line however, nothing concrete seems to have been agreed about where I will move to. Tokamachi seems like teh logical place to be based since it is in the middle of the four schools I wil teach at next year. But because Tsunan Chuto will be my base school, and Tsunan is a different local authority to Tokamachi, getting a teacher's residence flat in Tokamachi might cause some problems with paperwork. To add a bit more pressure, I heard that the contract on my current place has been cancelled an that I might have to move out by the end of July. With my trip home starting next Monday, this would mean having to pack, move out and clean my current apartment by Sunday evening, yet still have nowhere to move my things.

So with no definite place to move to, I'm starting to get stressed with a feeling at the back of my mind that it could all have been avoided. Should I blame the stress on the offices for being so tardy organising a new flat, or am I to blame by asking to move in the first place?

Last Big Night in Niigata

Last night I went to the Sayonara Party at Immigrants Cafe, followed by the obligatory early-morning karaoke, and it will probably be the last time we'll all get together like that. It's the end of an era, and cliched as that statement is, it sums up my feelings today.

So how did the day go? Well, I woke late on Sunday and decided to take teh car instead of teh bus up to Niigata. Keiko had plenty of time to get up to Niigata, so I took it easy up the Expressway to Niigata. (Actually, I limited myself to 80-90 kph and found I used around an eighth of a tank instead of the usual quarter. The journey only took an extra 20 minutes too!). We checked into our hotel and wandered round Bandai for teh afternoon, having lunch at Freshnes Burger and chatting to the guy in Murasaki Sports about skateboards (I need something to satisfy my carving cravings until the snow arrives!) Prepared myself for an all nighter by having a nap at the hotel before getting ready to go out.

Got to Immigrants around 8.30 and paid my 3,500 yen for the tabe-nomihodai (it was an all you can eat and drink party). I felt quite strange all night. One the one hand, it was great to be out with everyone, but at the back of my mind there was always the feeling of "Shit, this is the last time we'll all be out together". And whenever I was talking to someone, I couldn't relax because I was worried I'd run out of time to talk to everyone else. Eventually, the nomihodai did it;s trick and I got drunk enough to stop worrying about all this and just went with the flow. And taking advantage of the tabehodai early made sure I didn't get ridiculously drunk too quickly.

At the end of teh night, we all managed to put off tearful goodbyes outside Immigrants by piling over to Shidax for karaoke. We had teh biggest room Sidaz could offer and for teh next two hours we belted out ear-spliting versions of all our favourite songs. Perfect! At the end, Troy somehow managed to organise money from twenty drunks to pay for the rooms! We spilled out onto the streets around 6am and people started looking for taxis home. Tom got into an argument with a stranger. I didn't see how it started but I did see Tom determined to straighten things out. He follow the guy down the street and spent the next five/ten minutes apologising and talking it over wuth the guy. In the end, they were sharing jokes before saying goodbye and going their seperate ways. It was amazing to see.

Check-out time at our hotel was 1pm, so Keiko and I managed to get a few hours of sleep in. We woke, went for breakfast (well, dinner) at Milan, the footy cafe. Later we met Debs and the girls in Capricosa and had coffee and cake. Debs said that the new season's snowboards were in Murasaki Sports so we went up to have a look. I miss the snow!

Then we headed back to my car and came back to Toka. Again, I took it easy and again I was suprised at how much petrol I saved. Why haven't I been doing this before? I could have saved loads of cash! Maybe enough for one of them new boards I saw.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Sugoi Ame!!

Or "Amazing Rain!"
This morning I was meant to wake up, pack my stuff and head up to Niigata for a three team tournament. The weather, however, had other ideas. I knew as soon as the thunder woke me before my alarm that the chances of the tournament being cancelled becase of rain was high. As I laid in the half-sleep I could hear the rain battering my appartment roof. Yep, unless some freak weather system had dumped all this rain on Tokamachi and left Niigata untouched, the tournament would be cancelled. Soon after, Ryan rang to confirm the worst.

So, the day to myself, with a big football shaped hole in it. I tried to plug the gap playing Winning Eleven on the PS2 (completed my World Cup with Mexico) and then got onto the task of preparing my apartment for moving (more on that later). Tonight I'll probably join the Kawaji FC practise to get a bit of real footy in. Then tomorrow, up ot Niigata for the big farewell party. I hope it rains tomorrow night so I can hide my tears.

Friday, July 14, 2006


It was only a matter of time before the humidity turned me into a sloth. I know it happened last year and the year before, but I was hoping I'd have gotten used to it this year. But no. This afternoon, my twenty minute nap lasted two hours. And last night, my post-school nap became an eleven hour sleep-a-thon! (I must not these records are ear-plug assisted thanks to the level of traffic noise inside my apartment)

As nice as sleeping for ages is, I really can;t afford the time in these weeks before people leave and before my trip at the end if July. What can I do to go back to normal amounts of sleep?

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Mushi Atsui!!!

Amongst the cries of "Atsui!" ("it's hot!") from my students and teachers, I can sometimes hear "Mushi Atsui!" ("it's humid/muggy"). The humidity has been high ever since the weekend, when the third typhoon of the season passed north enough to affect the rest of Japan. It's been rain today too, which has only made things worse.

And when the humidity and temperature are high, work becomes pretty uncomfortable. Lesson planning takes twice as long because one of your hands is constantly wafting a fan. Last-minute dashes to the photocopier are punished by a river of sweat down your back. Bringing extra shirts to change into after each lesson becomes a good idea.

Maybe the worst consquence of this heat is that the students stop. Literally. During those fun activities that used to have them running up to the board to write answers become sessions where the students practise "Mushi Atsui" ("humid") and "Yada" ("don't wanna"). They're not even bothered to learn the English for "Mushi Atsui" and "Yada".

But one of my schools has got around this problem by installing air conditioning into each classroom. The English Teacher's room is still air con free, so Monday's three lesson's were a nice change to sweating in the office.

From the looks of the weather reports, this weather is likely to stay for the next few weeks. Coming home to England for two weeks (brother's graduation) seems like and even better idea now!

Saturday, July 08, 2006

10, 10, 10, 10, 10

Just been watching the first half of the Third-Fourth World Cuo play-off. In the last minute, Ronaldo was 'fouled' but it was obvious he took a dive when, halfway flying through the air, he took a look at the referee and started his protest BEFORE he hit the ground. Quite rightly, he didn't get the freekick.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Wimbledon Spirit

And I don;t mean the womble kind. No, Tennis! Traditionally in the UK, during the last week in June and the first week of July, the nice weather goes on holiday and tennis fans from everycorner of SW19 huddle under kagools and umbrellas patiently waiting for the chance to shout out "Come on Tim!!" (incidently, 'Henman-ia' finished as early as the second round when 'Tiger' Tim got knocked out by Federer in straight sets. Still, always next year.)

At the moment, Japan seems to be following this radition as close as it can; the rainy season has started and people are playing tennis. Last weekend I played in the Niigata-Ken SHS Teachers Tennis Tournament with my teachers from Tokamachi. I was quite surprised when Saito-sensei asked if I'd like to join, but I jumped at teh chance. I did warn him that I haven't played for ten years (not since sixth-form) but he said it was fine because we would practise a little before. We had two practise sessions at Sun Sports, a pretty bit sports complex that never knew was hidden in the Tokamachi mountains. My first hit of the ball, I sent it flying over teh fences and into the next court. which meant I needed a lot of practise. But, after two one hour sessions, the rally play came back, but my serve was ropey. How did I used to serve before?

So, the tournament came. Saito-sensei picked me up and we drove to Shiozawa. We had some time to practise so again, I tried to remember how I used to serve. Still, I couldn't do it.

So, first game. We had eight in our team, but only three doubles played in each match. So, one of teh teachers and I were recurited to make a mix team to replace a school who hadn't turned up. And the school my mix team played against was Luke Derror's! Luke had played in the tournament last year so I was hoping he'd make it again this year. Unfortunatly, we didn't get to play against each other as I was in the first set, and he played in the second. In my set, I still couldn't serve and I think all those double faults contributed to my double loosing our set. But the other two doubles won, so my mix team went through to the next round.

But as I was waiting, Sanjo Higashi school came and recruited me to play for them. On of their players was absent so I took his place. I tried my best and was getting better with each game, until, suddenly, I found I was serving again! The secret was that I used to underslice the ball, so it floated over rather being smashed over. With that breakthrough, we won the set and Sanjo Higashi were through to the next round. I, however, wasn't needed for teh next game because the missing teacher arrived. I was disappointed, but chuffed that Id found my serve again.

I didn't get to play again. The three doubles for Tokamachi were playing really well and worked their way up to the semi-finals. Perhaps next year they could take the title. Perhaps next year I could be playing against them with one of my new schools!

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Heart-breaking Love Story

I got up early this morning to watch a programme on TV. It could be described as a love story between a German and an Italian, against the dramatic backdrop of potential war in North Korea. The two lovers had been set up on a blind date by older, wiser relations and we were witnesses to how the relationship between the German and the Italian would develop.

A tense period of game-playing ensued. Both lovers made advances on the other, but each time the advance was brought down by the other. The fear of opening up and losing something dear to them was too great for either party to commit too much.

In the end, the Italian grew tired of these games and struck out twice. The, now dumped, German could do nothing but cry and think of what could be. The Italian, relieved that the ordeal was over, was truely jubulant and looking forward to better times.

Part two is shown tomorrow morning, with the final, climatic episode on Monday morning. Can't wait!

Toka to small for Tokyo to care about?

You know I said that I'd ordered my Summer Sonic tickets last week? Well, I got am email yesterday from CrissCross KK, the ticket agent, to say that their courier couldn't find my house. In fact, the courier said there was no building in Tokamachi with the building number I quoted. So I counted to ten, resisted the urge to reply "but it does exists, I'm sat in that house now", and resent my address in kanji. I've just been told that the courier has found the address (I guess on some database) and I'll get my tickets in 2 to 3 days. Yay!! Why they couldn't have asked Tokamachi Post Office the first time round I don't know. Still, at least they're on their way!

The incident has made me realise how much I'm taking for granted the high level of Job Competence over here. I think the reason why Japan has a reputation for everything working like clockwork is because everyone trys to do their best to accomplish their job. From what I've experienced, there's no knocking off early on Friday afternoon. There's no "Sorry I'm late, the traffic was terrible" when you turn up late. There's no "Right, 5pm, I'm off" when there's things to be done. People go out of their way to do a good job. I could never imagine finding this kind of attutide so prevailent in the UK.

And thinking back to my past experiences when moving flat in London, BT and British Gas could do with learning a thing or two from Japan.

Still a bit bitter

Not about England (don't get me started), but about a decision against one of my throws at the Tochigi tournament. I know, I know, it was months ago, but I've been looking up footy stuff on the web (for my new role as Footy Coach for Tsunan Chuto) and I came across the Rules of the Game, in particular Law 15: The Throw-in.

So, when I took The Throw in Tochigi, the ref called a foul throw because I twisted my body when I threw the ball. But Law 15 doesn't say that twisting the body is an offence, therefore, my throw was fine, the ref was wrong, neer-neer.

And another thing, Law 15 also states that "A throw-in is awarded ... when the whole of the ball passes over the touch line, either on the ground or in the air;". So all those whiners in Nagano who complained when I was linesman can shut up!

And no, I'm not pissed off with England's Exit. Honest!

Monday, July 03, 2006

Tokamachi, Guam and Kimonos

My Google News Alert for Tokamachi sent me this completley random article about Tokamachi. Tokamachi is more international than I thought.

Nakata Retires

After the Japan v Brazil match, Hidetoshi Nakata lay on the pitch for ten minutes. From what I hear, the Japanese press have been worried that this was a bad omen. Today Nakata announced on his website that he is going to retire from football. Not just international footy, but domestic too. (his website isn't loading at the moment, probably as every footy fan in Japan is probably trying to access it at the same time. try these news sites: Lancashire Newspapers, ESPN, Google News.

I think it's a shame. I haven't really seen what impact he had a Bolton, but he was one of the better players for the Japan national side. Perhaps the new Japan national coach can have a word and presuade him to come back.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Penalty Heartbreak, again.

So it turns out the Sven didn;t have a big plan up his sleeve. He wasn't lulling England's future opponent's into a false sense of security by playing shite for four matches. No, England really were that bad. They weren't just dicking about.

And again, despite all out passion and drive in the match against Portugal, we couldn't get just one goal to see us through. It didn't help when Rooney got sent off. Taking just four strikers (one youngster, two injured and a robot) was always going to be a big gamble, and it was one that didn't pay off. Maybe if the midfield was more on target, it would have been different. And what if they'd practised a few more penalties?

So, onto the semis. Germany v Italy, Protugal v France. I hope they're decent matches. Some lovely football would do wonders to take the sting out of England's exit.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Feeling in my water

Well, an hour away from England's game against Portugal. From the past four mathes, I should be expecting another dull, lifeless performance full of nervous tension. But, I'm feeling optomistic. I have a feeling in my water that England will pick themselves up for the 'tougher' competition and play like the champions we all hope they are.
This could be it. This could be the turning point of their campaign and the road to glory.

Come on England!!!!

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