Martin In Japan

Our Man In Japan

Friday, August 25, 2006

Ben Thatcher Elbow On Pedro Mendes

Just been reading up on the week's footy and I heard about this 'tackle' in the Man City v Portsmouth match (more here). I'll warn you, it's quite brutal and no for the squimish.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Hanabi Rocks

I saw my first 'hanabi' (fireworks) of the summer last Saturday (I'd missed Kashiwasaki and Nagaoka's fireworks cos I was in England). I had gone shopping in Nagaoka and on the drive back I could see in front of me the fireworks of the Ojiya Festival. I pulled over at Yamaya services and watched the final 20 minutes of the display. I shot this video of the finale:


New flat update: Connected telephone, rooms nearly sorted

The phone line in my new flat is finally connected. The telephone company, NTT, had transfered my number from my old flat to the new one when I moved in, but the line was dead at my end. Last week was obon, so the earliest an engineer could come to fix it was this week. A guy came yesterday to test the line and he found that the my flat wasn't connected to the main junction box downstairs. A second engineer came today and fixed that problem, so when I came home the telephone was connected. At last, I could call home!

My mum works in a school and has summer holidays off, so I can call in the evenings (japan time) and she'll be at home in the afternoon (england time). I waited until 11pm (japan time) to call but she was out. Curses! I'll try again tomorrow morning before work (evening in England)

The next problem is that my Yahoo BB doesn't work. I had assumed that the account would be carried over with the phone number, but that doesn't seem to be the case. Hopefully we can fix that on Friday.

The rest of the flat is finally coming together. I bought curtains for my three main windows. Having two east-facing windows has meant that in the morning the bedroom gets really bright. So I avoided the temptation of buying the cheapest and invested in curtains heavy enough to block out most of the light. Sleeping in this apartment just gets better and better!

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Extra school visit and chatting with a local

Yesterday I went to Hakkai High School in Muikamachi to help with their open day for third year Junior High students. Dean was also there and he introduced me to the English department Two of teh teachers I already knew from the seminar. A third teacher, Yanagisawa, I recognised but I couldn't place where from. He mentioned that he'd worked at Tsunan High School a few years ago and then it clicked; I'd seen his picture in the English Teachers room at Tsunan stood alongside John, the ALT two before me.

I did the same lesson plan with three different teachers. First we'd do a shouting game warm-up. Then a simple introduction interview. And finally, "Have you ever ...?" bingo. It was good to teach again for the first time since July. Some of the students were really genki and enthusiastic for the English lesson which made things a lot easier.

Dean and I went for dinner with Hakkai's English Department and we chatted and I got to know the teachers more. Whoever the new Hakkai ALT will be, I think they'll have a great time working with the English teachers at Hakkai and Tokamachi Koko.

After, I went to Jusco in Muikamachi to draw some money from the cash machine. As a stepped up to the machine, a woman said "Not Working" in English, and was genuinely surprised when she saw I understood her. I said I'd come back later. After a wander around Jusco, I returned and met the woman again. She told me in Japanese that the machine was still not working and she didn't know when it would be okay. So we got chatting about where I was from, what my job is, where I live, what I like about Niigata and the snow in winter. We chinwagged for a good ten-fifteen minutes before a man appered to say the machine was fixed. We both drew our money and said goodbye.

I had forgotten how great it is to just stand and chat to a random stranger. Those moments make me feel less like a visitor and more like a local. And it's a great confidence boost for my Japanese skills when I can see that I'm being understood, even with my poor Japanese. If only I could be more fearless, maybe I could have more of those moments.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Footy taking a back seat

Now, it takes a lot for me to forget about footy. But over the last few days I've forgotten to set up my fantasy footy team for this season, so I'll loose points this weekend (bummer) and I've forgotten to check on City's poor start to the season (bonus?). The reason? Why, the Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennial.

After work on Thursday and Friday, and all day yesterday and today, Keiko and I have been travelling around Tokamachi hunting for works of art and stamping our record card. There has been lots of good pieces, some not so good and a few fantastic pieces that have had me captivated. I've taken photos of all the ones I've seen, so I'll choose the best of each art piece and make somekind of online record card.

In the meantime, if you're in the area and see a little yellow sign, pull over and take a look. You might be amazed by what you see!

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Kitty-chan taking over the world

It's difficult to know when you've "cracked America" (ask Oasis), but having your own fashion show might be a good indication.

Farewell at the Shinano River

Will all this moving flat business is (generally) going well (bigger place, very very quiet) there has been some tragedy.

Most of you know I was given two goldfish by a student last november, and I named them Albi and Rex, after the Niigata footy team Albirex. So, I kept them and they got bigger and bigger so I bought this tank for them and they've been happy ever since.

Of course, the tank had to move to the new flat along with all my other stuff. So rather than have the removers try to lift the glass tank full of water and fish, I put Albi and Rex in a bucket, attached the filter, emptied the tank and put it back in its protective box. I left the bucket at Keiko's while I went to run a seminar and the removers moved my things.

Just before I started my return trip home, Keiko emailed to say that one of the fish had jumped out of the bucket and had died. I suspected it was Rex, who had developed a habit of 'splashing' near the edge of the tank (to attract my attention to feed him?), and when I saw the fish I found it was Rex. Keiko was really upset because he'd died while she was looking after him. But she couldn't have stopped it could she? Maybe I should have put a lid onthe bucket to stop him from jumping, but who was to expect that Rex would do such a thing.

We had to do something with the dead Rex. Burying doesn't seem appropriate for fish. Flushing down the toilet is undignified. I remembered a half-joke I made that I would put the fish in the Shinano if they died. Actually, that seemed perfect; putting him in the Shinano and be taken his biggest journey ever. So, at sunset, that's what I did.

Albi is still alive, swimming around in the tank in my new flat. He looks lonely so I'm thinking of getting another fish for him as company. But I dont want to buy a replacement Rex. This fish has to be different and has to have a good name too. Any ideas?

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Concentration Meltdown

The roadside display said today's temperature is around 35 degrees; a bit cooler than yesterday, but still really hot. I have all the windows open in the office, the fan on high, but I still can't get cool enough to concentrate. I'm daydreaming of going home to a nice cool apartment with it brand-new air-con unit.

Anyone have any suggestions, aside from taking out the shelves and sitting in the fridge?

Slowly coming together

The new apartment is starting to look less like a storage room and more like somewhere to live. Last night I sorted out the smaller tatami room to become my bedroom. Futons and the winter blankets are now all inside the futon cupboard. All my personal stuff, still in boxes, have been stacked in the other cupboard for when I have timem to sort that out.

This morning I got woken by two strangers entering my flat. They had come to install the air conditioning, which for the heat this week, is going to be very handy. I wasn't sure what to do with myself; should I go to school and leave them to it or should I stay in case they need me? I got a shower, got dressed and then started unpacking the rest of the kitchen boxes. By the time I'd sorted out my plates, glasses and cutlery, there was a man on a crane outside my second floor window and a hole in the wall of the apartment. I moved onto the next set of boxes; the last of the bathroom and cleaning stuff. When I'd finished, a shiny new air-con unit was attached to the wall covering the hole. I packed my bag ready for school and then teh air-con was working. A cool breeze swept through my apartment and I couldn't say 'arigatou' enough to the fitters. The last thing they did was ask me to sign an invoice, so they did need me after all. I checked the phone line before I left; still dead.

So I came to school and told the office people that the air-con had been installed but the phone still didn't work. "sugu ni", "soon" he said and then explained that there might be a problem with NTT switching the lines. Maybe it'll be done once obon is finished.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Local Culture and Events

I dont know what the Japanese is for "Phew, what a scorcher", but I'm sure the tabloids here will be printing that on the front pages tomorrow. According to one of the roadside displays, it was 38 degrees at lunch. With no air-conditioning in the Tsunan English room, I'm glad that I've managed to find a fan even if it is wafting hot air.

The weather reports are predicting rain, which is more than likely a result of 10th typhoon of the season heading towards Tokyo. The rain could be a worry if it lasts until the weekend because that is when Sado Island hosts Earth Celebration 2006. I went to the event in 2004 and had a great time seeing the Kodo drummers and soaking up the festival atmosphere. Last year I didn't go through a combination of lack of money, commitments at school and general tardiness. This year, lack of money again but also I want to use the weekend to finally finish unpacking and maybe take in some of more of the Art Triennial.

While I've been in Japan, every summer pieces of art pop up around the Tokamachi area. This year, all of the 360 art works return for a massive six week long exhibition. The opening ceremony was the day before I left for England, so I managed to see some pieces that were on display at Kinare. With so many pieces on display, the organisers have created a passport with space to put each art works stamp inside. So the race is on to collect all 360 stamps by 10th September. I reckon if I can see quite a few this weekend, make an effort to see some after work before it gets dark, it could be possible. I'll also join the JET Art-Triennial Tour (email Errol about it) to make sure I see some of the harder to reach pieces and also get to stay in the fabled House of Light.

I just hope my brain doesn't melt with all this high-brow entertainment and high temperatures.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Sweet, Sweet Dreams

Spent the second night in my new apartment last night. I got back from Summer Sonic around 8pm and spent the rest of the night trying to sort out the things in my kitchen. The thinking is that if i can get the kitchen sorted I can cook proper food instead of eating out of Seven-eleven. Also, I plan to use the space at the other end of the Dining-Kitchen room to store the stuff in the bedroom so I can finally get my bed set up.

But sleeping on the matress on the floor isn't too bad, especially when the apartment is quiet and isn;t shaking like the last one. I actually had a dream last night too, the first in a long long time. In it, I dreamt that all my mates from home had come over to Japan for a surprise visit. I had turned up to school one day and found them sitting in a classroom. We all went to a festival later where we wore yukata and danced bon-odori.

I hope for more dreams in my nice new quiet apartment.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Day two at SummerSonic

Back at the internet booth. Just been tp buy t-shirts. All designs had sold out except one, which I bought. Not my first choice of design, but quite interesting.

Yesterday got much better after I realised the differences between SummerSonic and Fuji Rock. If you plan enough time before hand to move between stages, then you can see the bands you want. At thye start I underestimated because teh real distances between you and the stage are much smaller than at fuji rock, but with the crowd control lanes you actually take much longer to get there.

Anyways, we managed to see all of The Cardigans, the end of InK, all of Spank Rock (we missed them at Zen TV II) who were excellent. We caught the end of Deftones before keeping our seats in the stadium ready for Metallica. Now, I've never been into Metallica's music, but last night they mad e anew fan. The energy coming off the stage was massive and blew me back into my seat. They did get a bit self indulgent when, after half an hour, they decided to begin playing teh entire Master of Puppets album. The crowd went wild, I was interested but not interested enough to stay until 9pm, so we left to walk back to the Messe for Daft Punk.

The set had been delayed, but by the time we got to the stage, the stewards saud that the room was full and we couldn;t get in now, but maybe in a little while. As they were setting up barriers to let the crowd in slowly, everyone surged forward and rushed them. We went with the flow and we were in! Daft Punk were ours!!

Daft punk put on a great show. The stage had a massive lighting rig the two guys were performing on top of this massive pyramid. For teh next hour or so they mized up their three albums andit sounded fantastic. Bits from the disappointing "Human After All" album were perfect for adding spice and linking older tracks. It was a great show.

After we got some food, then the train back to the hotel before i collapsed in an exhausted heap on the bed.

On to day two. We need to decide between DJ Shadow followed by Massive Attack, or Muse followed by Linkin Park, but hopefully we can see some great music before then too.

Friday, August 11, 2006


i've tried to see two bands and managed to see the end songs off both. as a veteren of several music festivals, such situations shouldnt happen. but summer sonic is difffrent to most festivals. the main difference is the ridiculous crowd control system. to see a band in the messe, u have to enter through the front, thru all the stalls, out the back, round the side and into the back of the stage. and this takes up valuable gig watching time.
more detailed planning will be required to enjoy this festival.


After a stressful week I've finally arrived at SUMMER SONIC. At the moment I've only just been making my way around Makuhare Messi, the massive convention hall that houses half of the festival (the other half it at Chiba Lotte's baseball ground down the road)
Risking sounding like a lazy journalist, Summer Sonic is like Electraglide on steroids. There are more stages, more stalls, more people, but the vibe is still the same.
Going to leave now and see m-flo and the Cardigans. Tonight I have to choose between Metalica and Daft Punk. A bit of a toughie eh?

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

First proper viewing

I stopped over at the new flat for a first look on my way to pick up more boxes from Jusco.
At first I was a little disapponted to find the dining/kitchen room floor covered in lino. There are also a few other problems. The walls aren't perfect; in one place four chucks have been taken out of the plaster, wall paper is damp-damaged on one wall, plaster in the hallway is practically falling off. One of the tatami mats has a red stain on it. Some of the windows are difficult to open, which could be more of a challenge in winter. So, all in all I was a little underwhelmed.

But then I stopped and starting 'imagining the potential'. The telly could go there; the bed in there; fridge, microwave and crockery cabinet here, here and here; snowboard over there; desk here. And then I realised, I'd been in the apartment for twenty minutes and hadn't heard a single truck! Tatami can be replaced, walls can be fixed but traffic can't be redirected.

I think it might work out.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Did I brush against a Magic Lamp?

If so, I've had wish number one: "Mr Genie, can I have a nice new apartment in Tokamachi with good access and room to dry my snowboard in winter?" "Granted"

Now I've just found out that wish number two has been granted: "Mr Genie, can Solid Steel, the super cool mix session you can listen to on the radio in the UK and online at be made into a podcast so I can listen to it in my car?" "Granted!"

How cool is that? I've just retrieved the lastest show and I'll listen to it on the way to the seminar tomorrow.

And my third wish? Well, we'll have to wait until May to see if Hull City make it to the Millenium Stadium!

Naive Hope of Holiday

I went back home for two weeks, and though it was called a holiday it was anything but. It was very enjoyable because I got to see my family, my brother graduate, and loads of my mates, but fitting so much into two weeks is always going to be tiring.

So when I looked at the blank pages of my diary, which start after this weekend's SummerSonic, I naively hoped that I could gently prepare for next term by day and relax in my nice new flat by night. But I found out today that half of those blank days have been filled up in my absence by the prefecture. After the seminar this week there's a newbie ALT orientation coming up, a speech contest, meetings with my two new schools as well as prep for those, possible summer training sessions with the Chuto soccer team. Oh, and someone turned the heating up to 36 degrees while I was away. And the new term starts in early September, its going to be tough to get everything done.

Still, I had some fantastic news about my new flat. The new flat has the amenties connected and the phoneline can be switched over at any time so I can start moving in. One drawback is that I have to move in by the end of the week so the current landlord can prepare this flat for the next tennant. With the seminar this week, Summersonic this weekend, and the Orientation on next week this would be impossible to do on my own. The great news is that removal men have been arranged to do the hard work for me; all I have to do is pack EVERYTHING in my flat by Friday morning. From looking around me when I got back from work this evening, it seemed to be a tall order. But I got some boxes from Jusco and with Keiko's help I managed to pack everything in my front room. Granted, this does leave the wardrobe, the futon closet and the kitchen, but it could be possible, even with a trip up to Sanjo on Wednesday to finalise things with my new car.

And when I'm moved into my nice new flat, in its nice quiet neighbourhood, I can get some regular, decent sleep for the first time in two years. I'm sure that in itself will let cope with the busy summer!

**Snow Blog**

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