Martin In Japan

Our Man In Japan

Thursday, December 28, 2006

At last!!!

As I left school today it started snowing! At long last, we might have some decent snow!! here's hoping that Ishiuchi gets a decent fall so the slopes stop looking like this:
and I can have a decent run there this weekend. Yay!!

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Christmas Night

So, Monday I blogged about my Christmas Day. Let me tell you about Christmas night.

After school I went to Tokamachi Post Office and picked up a parcel of presents from my mum. At home I tidied, wrapped Keiko's present then went for more kerosene (don't want to go cold during the night!).

Keiko came round and we went to Bistro Jyuzen, which seems to specialise in cooking meat and dishes in a european style and so our best bet of a getting a Christmas-sy dinner. And I think we made the right choice. We had half a roast chicken with gratin and steak salad. It was really, really nice. It was actually the first time I've eaten chicken off the bone in a long time (usually Japanese restaurants cook slices or chucks of chicken, but never the whole bird). After coffee we headed back to mine, stopping off at 7-11 to pick up some milk for our dessert.

I've been missing English food in the run up to Christmas. I can't buy mince pies, jam tarts or christmas pudding. I've been looking at recipes and what is available in Japanese shops and realised that it is possible to make your own Christmas pudding. So I did! I heated it up, made some custard and for dessert Keiko and I had my homemade Christmas pudding. And it tasted really good! I was surprised at how tasty my pud was, considering I'd made it only two days before. I think it might become a new xmas tradition of mine. I wonder what gimmick the puds could have. Sake instead of Brandy? Umeboshi instead of cherries? Daikon instead of carrot? I'll give it a go when I've eaten these ones.

After we exchanged pressies. From Keiko I got a box of cool little pressies, including a furoshiki and an arty calendar among others. I was a bit unromantic and gave Keiko a new electronic dictionary. I had an idea for customising it, but didn't have time. Maybe I can try during the New Year holiday. After gifts, we watched "Bad Santa" on DVD, which was quite funny.

So, eat chicken? check. Drink and get a little drunk? check. Give pressies? check. eat christmas pudding? Check! So, not too different a Christmas after all!

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Rain? Rain!!!

Just about to go to bed and all I can hear outside is heavy rain. Rain. It's supposed to be December in Tokamachi. When will the temperature drop so this rain becomes snow? I want to go snowboarding in powder!!!

Sunday, December 24, 2006

"Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas"

Today is Christmas Day and I'm in the office at school. Christmas isn't a national holiday in Japan, so if I wanted the day off to stuff my face and watch Bond I'd have had to have taken a day's holiday. And since I'm trying to save my holiday days for next year, that isn't going to happen.

So, how have I spent today? Well I woke up a bit late and rushed out to school for the normal time. At school I rang home to wish the family Merry Christmas and to have the "Yes, it is Christmas, it's 8:45am here / No, it's not, it's 11:45pm here so it's still Christmas Eve" debate. I'd brought the one xmas parcel I had so I opened that over coffee (two PSP games from Mark and his girlfriend Chan) and then set to work. This morning I spent my time sorting out the lesson plans as sheet from the last twelve weeks and planning the outline for my seminar next month. I took a cheeky little break before I went for lunch to play with one of my presents. After lunch I sorted out some business trip forms then went to help with the soccer club. I didn't have my kit so I stood in the cold in my snowboarding jacket and my nice warm new hat. The students have just left to get the bus home, so quick blog, a coffee and I'll get back to sorting the lesson plans for the other schools.

Really doesn't feel like Christmas. I guess without the normal routine, it's difficult to psyche yourself up for the event in the same way. I guess that means I won't be feeling the urge to pig out and binge as much as I normally would, so I can have a nice civilised Christmas Evening. My body should be gratful for such a present.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Crushing News

Will, captain of Niigata ALT FC, forwarded us a mail from the organiser of the 'Champion of Champions All-Japan ALT Football Tournament' in Saitama. The news wasn't good; the tournament has been CANCELLED!

The reasons for this goes back to the change of management at Saitama stadium. The new management will let us use the facilities of the Stadium (training pitches, outdoor changing rooms, canteen) but will not let us use the stadium pitch for the final match. So without the attraction of a chance to play on a World Cup pitch, some of the teams have pulled out. And you when you consider that some of these teams will have to fly from their distant prefetures to Saitama, you can't blame them really. I'd be hard pushed to travel more than seven hours just for a footy tournament that could be held anywhere. So the tournament is off.

Now, it would be pointless to stamp our feet and demand that we are allowed to use the stadium pitch; it is their stadium and they can do what they like with it. But I can't help but be disappointed. The ALT Tournament has been held at Saitama stadium since it started. Over this time the tournament organisers have developed a long relationship with the Stadium and I'd have thought, with all the participants good conduct in the previous tournaments, that this relationship would a very good one. I wonder if the new management are aware of the previous tournaments and how successful they have been. I wonder what the reasons behind their decision were. I wonder if they realise how many heartbroken footballers are sitting around Japan with nothing to look forward to in January.

There might be some hope of postponing the tournament until the spring when an attractive venue can be found, so that something we can cling to. But I don't know if I'll feel again those proud feelings towards Saitama stadium when I see it on TV hosting the next Japan international or Uwara Reds match.

Another week and a half flies by

In between boarding at the weekends, planning during the day and organising things to send home by night, it's been another busy week:

  • Saturday: Christmas pressie and card stuff, Joetsu for bonenkai with Joetsu ALTs and people from play, get horrifically drunk at nomihodai and can;t remember rest of teh night.
  • Sunday: Wake up early and head to Kagura for my first snowboarding session of the season, find gondola is broken so cant meet Linds and the northern ALTs on the top half of the mountain, spend afternoon with Keiko on the lower two slopes, finally meet Linds afterwards, have Italian, meet Anna, watch 'Hooligans', sleep
  • Monday: Students have special lessons after trip to Tokyo, so my lessons postponed til Wednesday, spend day lesson planning, go climbing for the first time in nine months
  • Tuesday: Hand back test papers in lessons, footy with KAwaji FC, wtahc Prem review at Keiko's
  • Wednesday: four lessons in a row because of postponed lessons from Monday, plan for Xmas lessons, more work on Christmas pressies
  • Thursday: prep and two xmas lessons, christmas party with English Club, climbing again
  • Friday: two Christmas lessons, experiment with 'All-Day breakfast' yakisoba (not bad!), Christmas shopping, send first parcel home to England, Nabe Party at Sanae's house, Pooh-san taken hostage by Erik, Pooh-san escapes
  • Saturday: Opening day at Cupid Valley, meet Simon, snow not great but can't complain at 1,000 yen all-day ticket, onsen, Christmas shopping in Joetsu
  • Sunday: wake late, Christmas Party, Finish Christmas shopping, wrap everything for England
  • Monday: Four Christmas lessons, post rest of presents to England, finish other Christmas prep, start on New Years cards
  • Tuesday: Dabate lesson, textbook lesson, xmas lesson, shop for card supplies, order snowboard, footy with Kawaji, soon off to Keiko's to watch prem review

And it'll be Christmas in a week, then the end of the year a week after. Then my birthday....

Ordered at last!

I've finally gone and done it, I've ordered my new snowboard!
I've been on the slopes a couple of times already this season. The snow hasn;t been perfect, but it's been fun. One thing I did get out of it was that, usable as my current board is, I think I've outgrown it. Any doubts I had about investing so much in a new board had gone. The latest hurdle has been trying to find my credit card.

I could have bought my board from a shop in Japan, but I found the exact same board and bindings online about £50/10,000 yen cheaper each, including shipping. But to buy from teh internet, you need a credit card. Last time I saw mine was when I landed in August and packed to move apartment! But after a big search, I've found it and I ordered this Arbor Draft snowboard and these Flux Titan bindings. They should be on my door in 7 days or so. Woohoo!

And as a bonus, when I looked for my credit card I found all last year's New Year's cards so I can send cards to all my teachers. Yay!

Friday, December 08, 2006

Another week over

I've said it before and I'll say it again; it's ridiculous how quickly time seems to be passing. Overview for this week:

  • Saturday: Drive to Sendai, check-in and eat 'Gyu-Tan' (beef tongue), the famous dish of Sendai
  • Sunday: Take the dreaded Japanese Language Proficency Test. Bump into Ewan. See samurai armour. Eat more Gyu-tan. Watch 'Casino Royale' ('twas fantastic!)
  • Monday: Visit Matsushima, eat 'Maguro-don' (raw-tuna rice bowl), drive back to Tokamachi.
  • Tuesday: Have speaking tests with three first-year classes, study for correspondance Japanese course, prep for future lessons, watch footy at Keiko's
  • Wednesday: Have four consecutive lessons with the Junior High students, prepare Advent Tree(still unfinished!), start organising christmas pressies and cards
  • Thursday: Prep for lessons, two lessons, organise Advent Picture calendar with English Club, rent and watch 'Layer Cake' (in a bit of a Daniel Craig phase aren't I?)
  • Friday: More Advent Pictures, two lessons, nap, finish correspondence Japanese course, get haircut, see Keiko, blog

It's funny how it all seems so simple written down, but I feel I've been busy every minute of every day. There are still things that need to be done (ie. Christmas cards and pressies) so I'm hoping to get that sorted tomorrow so I can enjoy my first snowboarding session on Sunday!

After that, it'll be back to the grind until next Friday. Ganbaremasu!

Thursday, December 07, 2006


I cant believe what I just read on the BBC website; there was a tornado in London at around 11am GMT (8pm JST), and I'm not talking about a military aircraft. Have a look at these pictures.


Yes yes yes!!!

Okutadami Ski Slope opened today! With no exams to study for and no footy match scheduled for Saturday, can you guess where I'll be spending my time the day after tomorrow?

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

The Big Test Day

Sunday 3rd December was the day of my Japanese test. After stepping up my study over the last two months, the day I'd been working towards had finally arrived. But first I had to get from Tokamachi, Niigata-ken to Sendai, Miyagi-ken.

Keiko came with me for the weekend, so we decided it would be much cheaper and convenient to drive there. It was a six hour drive, first north to Niigata City, then east past Bandai-San until the far side of Fukushima-ken where we go north to Sendai, just off the coast of the Pacific. I revised on the way by playing the past paper listening tests in the car. Keiko helped me understand the dialogues in more detail so I could see where I was going wrong and how I could improve my chances.

When we arrived in Sendai, we checked in, went for lunch and I bought piece of mind by getting a new set of pencils and sharpener for the test. After dinner I reviewed my flashcards and tried to get a good nights sleep. How annoyed was I when at 1am fire engines and ambulances, sirens blazing, raced down the street outside. Not two or three vehicles, but what seemed like the whole Sendai 999 fleet raced past out hotel for a good 30 minutes. I don't know what the emergency was, but it made a very nervous Martin very short-tempered.

Still, when morning came, I felt pretty good. Keiko came with me for breakfast at a cafe and I went over my grammar flashcards one last time before catching the bus to the test site. I arrived at Sendai University about 40 minutes early, so I bought a coffee and hid from the cold weather in the cafeteria, again going over my flashcards.

So, the first paper; Grammar and Vocabulary. It started well, but a few kanji came up that I had to guess; a surprise because I'm usually really confident with my kanji. The vocab section went much better than expected, so maybe I've done well for that 25%.

When the test ended, I was about to get up when I saw Ewan standing in front of me. It was a complete surprise. I'd been talking about my test for so long and no one had said that they were taking it in Sendai too so I'd assumed I was going to be on my own. It was great to see a familiar face and we headed back to the cafeteria to wait for the second paper.

The Listening section was probably my weakest point when I took the past papers two months ago. But I'd worked on the dialogues, listening to them in the car over teh last few weeks, and was much more confident. I think it went well and I think I avoid all the traps they usually set. So, maybe another good score for that 25%.

For lunch, Ewan and I took advantage of teh cheap university food and had a hot lunch in the cafeteria. The open eating space, brown curry and snow outside reminded me of upcoming boarding season which was a welcome break from stressing about the final paper; Grammar and reading.

I'd actually started focusing my study on grammar in the last few days, but still I was worried that the paper would ask about those grammer rules that I'd forgotten or couldn;t remember well. As it turned out, the grammar I'd been reviewing at breakfast and in the cafeteria came up! I couldn't believe it. I managed to get into a rhythm and confidently went through the first few pages. Down to the final two reading sections and I had 25 minutes left. Plenty of time! Or so I thought. I got too involved with the first reading section, so by the time I finished the questions, I had little over five minutes to answer the final section, worth 12 points ot 10% of the paper. Idiot!! I filled in the answers just as time was called and regretted the time wasting. Still, I felt confident about the other questions so, fingers-crossed, I'll have a good score.

After the test, Ewan and I compared our experiences and headed to the City museum to meet Keiko. Ewan left soon after to get back home. I'd taken nenkyu for Monday so I treated myself to watching the new Bond film, Casino Royale, on Sunday evening, then taking a trip up to Matsu-shima on Monday before returning to Niigata.

Overall, I think I've done much better than I did in last year's test. I'm probably borderline passing, but I guess I'll just have to wait and see in February. If anything, I'm where I wanted to be last year. I was actually able to put a steady amount of study in for this test, and maybe I've developed a good habit of study that can only take my Japanese forward. In that sense, the test has been worth it. If I can get a pass mark and certificate, than that's a bonus. It's down to me now to keep the good study habit up.

**Snow Blog**

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