A Travellerspoint blog


School Culture Festival

October began with a special school event, the 2nd and 3rd were our Bunkasai.

Bunkasai, when directly translated means 'culture festival and every school has one around this time - though I guess in English terms it was a kind of a combinations of School Fair, School Play and Concert and an Open Day all together. So there was a mix of games to play, food on sale and performances from the kids of various types in and around the school.

The enterance and courtyard were all decorated for the day, including some nice illuminations that looked very pretty in the evening.




For quite some time now students had been doing preparation for this event after school - this meant singing practice and rehersals for the plays; most classes also had some kind of project they worked on (making a mosaic, or stained glass, or posters, etc etc). I really wanted to help with the preparation, and I was given a very important special job that only I could do -


Well - they told me that it was very important that I stand very still with that duck on my head and touch nothing anyway.... I'm still not sure why?? And they all left the room??? :-) Actually, I helped out painting the backdrop for the first years play and sorting items out for the bazzar. Here you can see someof the kids pre-bunkasai perparation and art work.



The first thing I noticed on the actual day though was nothing to do with the festival, but the new uniforms some students were wearing. October marks the official begining of the Autum period and students can choose to stay in Summer uniforms or change to Autum Uniforms - I got a couple of comparison photos.



Much more interesting were some of the costumes students were wearing - including the obligatory bit of cross dressing :-)



These were mostly for the kids running the games stalls - which were typical school fair things like ten pin bowling (with plastic bottles full of grit for pins), hoop tossing and an interesting Japanese varient on hook-a-duck where you have a paper scoop and have to scoop small prizes out of the water before the paper breaks - at the school festival the prizes were small plastic toys - but I saw the same thing with little fish and even baby turtles at the Otsu Matsuri.





These stall were only running on the second day of the festival though - the first day was dominated with staged events in the hall. There was a Taiko performance, a Harry Potter look-a-like contest and each year performed a play.



OK That wasn't really a Harry Potter look-a-like contest - but it could have been!!!


This was the second years play - about a troubled student and domestic violence!


The first years play was about a deaf student joining a baseball team.


And the third years did a play about refugees in Okinawa hiding from soilders in the caves there (I was the voice of the American soilder calling them to come out!) . So very light topics for all of the plays then!

The second day had way too much chior singing as EVERY class had to sing two songs -


To be honest I got bored and wandered off around the school and took a photo of a Japanese toilet for this blog as I thought that might be interesting for you all -


Most places have western style toilets now - but you can still find a lot of these Japanese squat and drop ones too; the Japanese say they are more hygienic because no part of the body touches the seat, which has some logic... but I'd prefer a supportive seat anyday still!

After the choir singing the program was more mixed however - there was brass band music, student volunteers did various routines, the teachers sang (I joined the PTA choir and sang a Japanese song and 'We are the world' as well) and some teachers also did a so-bad-it-was-funny dance routine. Plus there were all the stalls and games I mentioned before.


I got the full 'dance' on video too - watch the guy in the centre with the head scarf; he missed the couple of rehersals they had and has no idea what is coming next - also love the bit where they should form two lines but most of them go into the same line :-)

All this time students were free to wander around and see which things they wanted in the various classrooms (there was tea ceremony, video presentations and handicrafts for example) or just sit outside eating and chatting.


The whole thing went on all day until it got dark when there was a closing ceremony outside and a few prizes were given out - then lit by the illuminations and a full moon we packed up and went home.


Posted by DKJM74 19:41 Comments (0)

September Scrapbook (Part 3)

OK - this one really is going to be a scrapbook. I'm so far behind on posting events on this blog that if I don't finish off September today I have no idea how I'll catch up!

So - everything else from September will be reported here in brief -


Let's begin with some pretty, pretty pictures :-)



I love this Dragon Cloud !




Autum is coming now, but in September it was still wonderfully warm and I was still cycling around in my T-shirt. The only sign that it was really autum was the harvesting of the crops and the changing flowers - these red flowers appeared and disappeared in a few days all around the town. Birds are beginning to gather in greater numbers on the lake as well.

The weekend of the 26th I was invited to join Kurumi Sensei and Muro Sensei for a fishing trip on the lake, now I'm not really interested in fishing - messing about in boats is always fun so I accepted.


Kurumi Sensei


Muro Sensei

So I learnt 3 things -

1) Drift fishing is easy, you just leave the rod and don't have to do anything!


2) They make fishing boots with my middle name on them.


3) It's not very comfortable trying to sleep on a small fishing boat.


There's some video from the trip too - but to be honest it's not that exciting :-) No big catches - in fact, this was all we caught -


One little fishy!

Anyway, if you want to watch the videos here they are -

When we got back from fishing we went directly to the boat house as the teachers had to coach students for the rowing club - which the hadn't warned me about so I was wearing a T-shirt that says 'Pervert' on it - oops! Luckily I got a spare T-shirt at the boat house and had a go at rowing with one of the students.




That day was also Kitty's birthday - so it was back to Mr. Karaoke! in the evening (My singing has not improved!).


The following day I was invited to a barbeque party by my friend Kaori - so I go to meet some of her friends and another English teacher called Justin. The food was really nice and it was a really nice relaxed get together - I even gotto try my hand at Kendo. The father is very good at Kendo and he showed us some basic moves - so I got to see girls fight with (bamboo) swords - cool :-)







I've also been taking the time to explore around Imazu a bit more as well on my bike and finding a few interesting spots - one thing I'm getting very interested in is はいきょう (Haikyou) which means 'abandoned places'. Japan is full of them, like the big wheel I took pictures o in Katata, and I've bought a guide book of the 200 best はいきょう in Japan - so I hope to go explore some of them. Even Imazu has mini-はいきょう. I discovered some abandoned apartment blocks -



Of course this means more interesting bugs :-)



I've also found a nice shrine in Imazu (right next to a Japanese defence force compund!) So I took a few pictures there and made a 'tour' video - though I really should try and plan what I'm going to say on these videos a bit more, because I'm talking complete rubbish here - as I'm trying to show things that I have very little idea about myself :-)




And I'm getting better at making worksheets - here are some of my creations for the lesson where we had to teach 'How many... ' - I thought drawing aliens was the obvious approach :-)




And just to close this collection of random things - let's finish with a frog!!


I'll see you all for October's blog updates - I'll do at least one this weekend! In October I have the school culture festival, more speech contest, inter-school sports, a waterfall hike, a Japanese street festival and Halloween to report - so keep tuned!!

P.S. Travellerspoint have made it much easier to add pictures to the blog now, and in bigger sizes too, so I hope the page looks better now - any comments?

Posted by DKJM74 01:07 Comments (1)

Silver Week (Part 3)

Nagoya, Meeting Hanako

Last time I wrote about my trip to Osaka and this next trip happened the day after that - I got up, went to the train station and went directly from Osaka to Nagoya without going home first (which is why I'm wearing the same suit still!)


This was the last of my Silver week trips and one I'd been planning for a while. My main reason for going to Nagoya was to finally meet with my Japanese penfriend who I was writing with from Slovakia. We'd been writing on and off for more than a year, but I'd only ever seen one photo of her and briefly spoken to her on the phone (Very nice telephone voice, all Japanese people have a special telephone voice they use!) Not knowing me that well she had arranged for us to meet along with some of her Japanese friends - so this was going to be my first trip where I was the only 'foriegner' with a group of Japanese people; which was exciting.

When I arrived I went directly to the りょかん (Japanese Inn) where I'd booked a room, but nobody was there. So I just explored the local area - which turned out quite well...

At first I just saw some quite typical big glass towers and malls.


But then behind the mall there was some big event going on -


At first I had no idea what it was, but I asked one of the security guys and found out it was a 'fan meet' - all these people where there waiting in line with tickets they'd bought to meet and shake hands with the members of a popular Japanese girl group.


You might notice there are alot of them - yes, all those girls in red are part of the band; called AKB48. I think there are about 12 of them in this band. Manufactured pop bands tend to have more members in Japan, and the numbers can change a lot in one band too. The ideal is to try and have something for everybody.

I didn't get to meet them as I didn't have a ticket - but I took some nice pictures and got to listen to a lot of screaming fan girls. Now I know you must be crious about their 'talent' - so here are a couple of their videos.

In the second one they are all dressed in High School uniforms :-) And if you're thinking - look at how sexy they've made those uniforms look! - I have to tell you they are pretty much just normal Japanese High School Uniforms - eveyday at about 8.05am I get all the High School students going from the train station to school directly past my flat, so I see this almost everyday. (Actually I've just watched a few more and they're dressed in school uniforms in most of their videos - no wonder Japan has a Lolita complex!)

Anyway - after that all finished I went back to the りょかん and there was somebody there finally, so I got into my room. As the place was quite empty I got the biggest tatami room that opened onto a small Japanese garden for a really good price :-) Very happy.


Showered, changed and went out again to meet Hanako - who turned out to be really nice! (Though that wasn't a surprise, she was always very nice in her E-mails too!)

Unfortunately, I didn't take any pictures that evening - but she introduced me to two of her work friend and had dinner together in a really lively Japanese grill bar (You cook a lot of the food at you table yourself!). It was also probably the most Japanes I've had to speak here yet - 60 or 70% of the conversation was Japanese, which was good practice and very challenging.

Next day I met Hanako again but this time with different friends. They had prepared a full sightseeing plan of places to show me in Nagoya, with each of them planning on taking turns as tour guide; it was all so thoughtful and sweet! I'd loved them - they were so nice to me :-)


So (from left to right) we have - Chikae, Hanako, me!, Chikako, Kanako ... I think, I'm sorry if I mixed your names ladies, ちょっとむずかしいですね。

The plan included several famous sites and interesting areas of the city - Including; Nagoya castle (with an interesting exhibit inside including old Samurai armour)


and Osu town - a lively shopping district that kind of feels like a mini-Tokyo, Akihabara. It also has that strange feature where there are small shrines placed between the shops in a busy shopping arcade - for soime reason I really like that.


Then we kind of forgot the plan - I was telling them about the Goth Club in Osaka and trying to explain Gothic fashion to them and they began talking in Japanese - and then they took me to a Maid Cafe in Osu (A cafe where all the waitress wear sexy, frilly maids outfits, which wasn't on the plan!) Actually we missed the Maid Cafe and went to the Cosplay Cafe next door by accident (Similar thing, but different costumes) - but the ladies were really amazed anyway. I think they felt like naughty school girls doing something they shouldn't do, it was very funny - and I'm, really glad they felt comfortable enough with me to do something out of the ordinary for them :-) Yes, I soon corrupt the local ladies wherever I go, it's the English gentleman's way :-) Unfortunately no photos allowed in Cos-play cafes without paying for them!

Soon after that it began to get dark so we headed back to the city centre. Going a lot of the way through a HUGE underground shopping complex. Japanese cities when all lit up at night are so - Neo sci-fi and quite beautiful.


We finished the evening off at a cafe on the top floor of one of the highest buildings in the centre, more group photos, strange desserts made to look like cloudy mountains and great views of the city.


It was a really nice way to end a really nice visit. Then it was off to the train station, and back home to Imazu - the end of Silver Week.


BUT.... later I got a really nice surprise in my E-Mail... mine is not the only blog about my visit to Nagoya. Kanako wrote her own as well -


Thank you very much for that - I love it :-)

Full album - http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2021887&id=1122485897&l=32c30be39e

Posted by DKJM74 02:18 Comments (0)

Silver Week (Part 2)

(Clubbing in Osaka)

Before Silver Week Leila had told me about a Goth club in Osaka she had heard about, not really a regular club - but once a month or so there is a Goth event at one club - and having not had access to anything like a decent club for a long time I was very interested.

So Leila and I headed off to Osaka on July 20th.


While Kyoto is a city it mostly promotes itself on the basis of it's historical and cultural significance - Osaka on the otherhand is more of an urban playground, a full on bright lights, big city kind of place where it does seem there's a lot going on (A varied live music and club scene, a Universal Studios theme park, a massive aquarium with a whale shark in one tank apparently; I can't wait to see that, and I should see it next week with a really nice girl I met last week. Hi, Harumi if you're reading this!). Osaka really feels like a proper metropolitian city, and another world after all the ricefields of Imazu.

The morning was spent just checking out the Namba district shops (lots of alternative, retro and really cool stuff!) As I was only wearing a batman T-shirt I just *had* to go shopping for clubbing clothes :-) So this is me doing my best girly shopping pose -


What I actually bought was a nice new suit and a pair of Docs


The result was quite good though as by evening I was 'transformed' to this -


Leila also bought a new outfit - but more of a cosplay style thing


So in tip-top clubbing mood we went out onto the streets again


We just wandered for a while taking it in, people in Osaka love to eat and there are so many resturants of so many kinds - there are some great places selling octopus with funky big octopus signs, and we saw the famous posionous fish that they serve here; every year in Japan several people die of poisoning because this fish hasn't been prepared correctly.


- Osaka also has groovy people shaped street lights and the happiest police men ever! -



This was all still too early to go to the Goth Club - so Leila showed me a 'Live House'; basically a small venue for live music from local bands. You pay one price and get to see three bands.

The first band was already playing when we arrived and was so-so, the second band was pretty good they had a kind of retro lead singer with 50's hair and they had a kind of punk roc'n'roll vibe that really worked (Plus then they finished one member of the band had to be taken away in an ambulance to hospital with bleeding head - but he finished the set first! Not quite sure how it happened, but very rock'n'rolla) the third band was just plain bad - they looked bad, they sounded bad, they were bad!




Then Leila met a Tazmanian friend of hers and I went straight ahead to the Goth Club accross the road - The music was a mix of goth, electronic and industrial as opposed to the classic goth music I prefer; but I liked what what they played and it was danceable - which is all that really matters to me in a club. It wasn't too busy, and I get the feeling Goth is a bit of a small but devoted community - some of the clothes were fantastic. Look closely one girl has got a BOAT in her hair!!! (I've put most of these pictures into B&W or sepia as it just suits them better!)








The guy with all the facial metal was the DJ. I had a really good time, I haven't danced so much for ages. The next Goth night is Halloween and I'm planning to go again - maybe invest in a good frilly Gothic shirt and some fake blood to dribble from the corner of my mouth Vampire style (and a single black rose of course!).

Still I did look worse for wear the next morning - even without drinking!


Well - it's 1am here and I'm not clubbing tonight - so I'm going to go to bed now; actually I've got my friend, Murosensei, staying over in my other room tonight as he was drinking at a work party and didn't want to drive home to the otherside of the lake. That's got nothing to do with anything else in this entry, but it is a current fact - as opposed to writing about what happened 3 weeks ago (like I always seem to be doing!)

I really don't have time to be writing to everybody personally, but I'd love to hear from some of you from (ex)Berlitz and beyond - if you don't have much time either just drop a quick comment on the blog sometime; it'd be nice to know who's reading it!! I get a lot of views recorded, but no comments.

Anyway, here's the Osaka album

Posted by DKJM74 08:25 Comments (2)

Silver Week (Part 1)

(Sept 19th, Kyoto, Kiyomizu Dera)

Silver week doesn’t happen every year. It’s a little bit like Christmas in England, sometimes it falls on a weekend and you only get one extra day off work, but some nice years you get five days holiday in a row. Silver Week is what they call it here when that happens with a few holidays in September; and this year it fell just right giving a clear five days off work. So it was time to get out of the countryside and check out a few of the local bigger cities.

The nearest big place is Kyoto (40 mins away on the local train). I’ve been to Kyoto before; during my holiday in Japan I spent 2 or 3 days there. It is the historical capital of Japan and has more ancient temples, shrines and festivals than any other place in Japan. One of the local ALTs, Peter, is visiting Kyoto every weekend to see a different site each time; there is so much to see.

The point is you don’t really visit Kyoto – you visit a specific place in Kyoto. So this time I visited Kiyomizu Dera.


The most striking thing about this temple is its location. It has been built into the mountain site on the outskirts of Kyoto with terraced viewing platforms above the tree tops on the slope belows all held up by huge wooden supports.




There are two routes up to the temple one following a street lined wthe little shops in old style buildings.


This way also seems to attract a lot of 'Pillgrims' - who come to pray at the Kannon in the temple and drink from the sacred spring. Though how genuine these pilgrims are seems very questionable, I can't help but feel there may be a few professional 'pilgrims' who are always around that area begging.



This is clearly the main way to the temple, but I actually approached it by a differnt way - starting in another temple complex at the foot of the mountain and climbing up through a big cemetary along a path dotted with smaller shrines along the way.



I skiped most of the smaller shrines as I was goingto see a big temple anyway - but I did stop off at one of them at a whim and I'm glad I did because I got into a brief (eg - all Japanese) conversation with a nice monk who introduced me to the two cats that lived there - mother and daughter apparently despite looking nothing alike.




Once you get to Kiyomizu Dera itself it is really pretty - I'd like to go back in a few weeks once all the leaves have turned red, it'll be gorgeous - however most of the arcitecture is still pretty much red and pointy :-) So now I'm restricting myself a bit to only taking photos of interesting angles or really unique features of these shrines and temples.




The sacred spring at the base of the temple has been channeled to flow over a little covered walkway into a pool, and for a price you can go along that walkway and catch the falling water with special long handled ladles - drink this and it's good luck, health, wealth and all the usual magical goodness - just once it'd be nice to see a sacred spring, or magic stone, or whatever, that promised something like 10% better vision in your right eye on Tuesdays or something a bit more original.


One nice thing here was meeting a group of school kids from Tokyo who were on an assignment where they had it interview non-Japanese people, in English, about why they were in Japan; they were really happy to talk to me because I used simple, clear English and slipped in Japanese hints if they didn't understand, plus they were very surprised that I wasn't a tourist on holiday. Their teacher took several photos of them 'interacting' with me so I guess I'm in some Tokyo school website or newsletter now.



After leaving the temple and making my way past the pilgrims I decided to hit the centre of Kyoto as I've only ever been around the edges (because that's where all the beautiful buildings are). So I strolled around the long covered shopping arcades for a while then went back to the station - which I realised is a pretty impressive piece or arcitecture itself. A huge glass and steel place, with 9 floors inside and a big observation garden at the very top with views of th city and Kyoto tower. So I ended up spending quite a bit of time just going around the station building.







And that's Kyoto (or part of it), my local city - it's hard to believe I live so close to such an iconic, historical place now; during my holiday Nik and I planned a couple of nights in Kyoto as a real high point in our trip. Last week I was doing washing and cleaning all moring and at about 3pm I just though 'I need to go out, let's go to Kyoto' and an hour later I was there. I don't kow how much longer it'll last, but up to now almost everyday at some point I get a little thought in my head that just says 'You're living in Japan!' and I just start grinning :-)

As usual there's a full photo gallery from the day here -

Posted by DKJM74 05:01 Comments (0)

September Scrapbook (Part 2)

Scool life


I’ve been taking photos around the school since I arrived, but so far (except for the Kayak trip) I haven’t posted anything work related. So today I want to take my time and explain a bit about the school and my work; and post a lot of School pictures!

So the basics first - the school is a bit away from my flat and there's no bus service so I cycle to work on the rental bike provided by the board of education- which is quite nice now, but I'm dreading worse weather (narrowly missed being in the centre of a typoon a couple of days ago!)

My regular hours are 8.30 to 4.30 and teach about four 50min lessons everyday, the rest of the time I'm talking to the teacher I work in the classroom with, lesson planning or free to just read or study Japanese etc. By the time I arrive the students and other teachers are already there as I'm not required to attend the morning staff meetings. About 90% students cycle too and from the school, so there's always a mass of kids on bikes in the morning - a lot of the older highschool students cylce past my flat every morning.


Once I'm there I have about 20mins to have a drink and look over the days lessons that start at 8.50. In the class my role varies from lesson to lesson - sometimes I just have to help with pronunciation of new words (like a living CD player) or wander around and check students writing work, other times it's more active as me and the JTE (Japanese teacher of English) act out (really overact that is!) model dialogues or scenes together or I run some special activity I planned (now I'm putting together Halloween worksheets for next weeks classes - a Halloween picture crossword where each student only has one vocabulary item so they have to work together to complete the puzzle).

Here some students are doing my self introducton lesson activity (Questions on puzzle pieces that they had to put together and then ask to find out about me.)



The classes have about 30 - 36 students in them, but in the second and third years they often have divided classes so you only get half of the students at a time. Some of the classes are very げんき (lively) others are less so -

More げんき

Not so げんき

I sometimes also help with a small group of slow learners, or special needs students - which is actually really fun to do -


At lunch time students eat in their home class and a small table to serve the food is set up outside each room - I sometimes eat with the students or sometimes in the staff room with the other teachers - it's a set menu everyday; so far there hasn't been anything inedible, though there have been a couple of meals that I'd not personally have chosen....


If there is some nice food left over students will play a version of Rock, Paper, Scissors to decide who gets it - they call it 'Jun, Ken, Po' and you can seem to do it with a massive number of people though I'm not sure how that works.


In fact 'Jun, Ken, Po' is used for making many choices - who will 'volunteer' in class, who has to clean the blackboard, etc etc. Very popular here!

I have my own desk in the teachers room where I can plan lessons and people can leave things for me, and I also have an English board just outside the teacher's room where I post things for the students and display things students make for me. Two of the best things I've had were this letter -


The two Japanese words are Unique (ユニーク) and insects (むし) - I have a reputation for liking insects in the school, which I'm kind of playing up to; I give bug stickers out as prizes to good students in class now!This is also probably why I got the second cool thing when someone brought me a dragonfly and left it on my desk (it wasn't harmed and I let it go out of the window soon after this picture was taken!)


After school there is a short cleaning period where all the students have to clean the halls and classrooms - while a looped cheerful tune is played over the school PA system.



The coolest part is when they run along cleaning the floor (which I'd seen in the Ghibli movie Spirited Away - but it was fun to see it in real life!) The clip is only about 5 seconds long as I almost fell over :-)

Then after cleaning time instead of going home almost all of the students stay at school for longer to participate in club activites. There are many clubs for various sports as well as a few clubs for music, martial arts and cultural things like tea ceremony.

Here are just a couple of examples - students from the brass band club in the school, and students by the boat house for the school rowing club.



I really like all these things as it really does create a community atmosphere that I really don't recall from my school days; I sometimes play with the table tennis club after school myself and I did have a go at rowing too, but I'll post pictures of that later when I write about my fishing trip!

So there you go a bit of an insight into Imazu Junior High school life - if you want to see more please check out the gallery here - http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2020707&id=1122485897&l=6b6b8e91c4

Posted by DKJM74 21:55 Comments (0)

September Scrapbook (Part 1)

JDF Concert, Katata and a tour of my flat :-)

This ‘scrapbook’ is just a loose collection of things from the weekend of the 12th and 13th – The Saturday was really rainy, but I’d been invited to a concert in Imazu’s concert hall. This was another case of doing something I’d never have gone to normally – but now I’m trying to follow a policy of not turning down any invitations (from Japanese people at least). So, I went to a concert of music from the Japanese Defence Force Brass Band.

Until this point I didn’t even know about the JDF. I just assumed that Japan had an army like other countries, but no they only have this ‘Defence Force’. They are actually forbidden from having an army, due to too much military aggression in their past (makes me wonder why Germany can still have an army?). The JDF is all they are permitted, and as the name says they are only trained and equipped for domestic defence.

The concert itself was divided into three parts. The military stage, which was pure JDF propaganda (military anthems played to film of tanks rolling across wastelands – Gavin would have loved it!).


Next the ‘fun’ stage, with upbeat big band music.


Then, the part that made it interesting, the Japanese stage, which was Taiko Drumming (which is very cool indeed).
There were two groups playing – the first was more Korean style apparently, and I only thought about taking a video when they were slowing down and finishing their set.

The second group was pure Japanese Taiko – and I got a better video. Enjoy!

I know one of the other ALTs does Taiko, and I’m seriously thinking about giving it a try; though Kendo is higher on my list of things to try here (and I have a kendo training sword now)!

The day after that I went down to Katata with Connie. When you are on the train it looks like the first real town you go past as you head south towards Otsu and Kyoto – but it isn’t, it’s just a slightly bigger dead end nowhere place that has three things going for it.

1. A foreign food store with a good range of curry sauces (in a shopping centre where I got to have my photo taken with a monkey and a bear).


2. A restaurant with a huge mechanical crab outside it.


3. An old abandoned big wheel that’s pretty damn cool.


That is all there is in Katatka, however when I got back to Imazu it was a wonderful sunny day so I decided to do the video tour of my flat that I’d promised to do. For some reason the sound is missing at the very beginning of the video – but it soon kicks in. So, welcome to my new home.

And here are two comparative photos of the bedroom with and without the futon laid out.



If you’d like to see more pictures from The JDF concert or Katata’s abandoned big wheel (some quite nice ones!); look here - http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2020150&id=1122485897&l=b4126617c3

Posted by DKJM74 06:36 Comments (0)

Speech Contest Round 1


Firstly a quick note on this blog itself – so far it hasn’t been as regularly updated or as detailed as I’d originally intended it to be. This is because it’s all had to be put together on Connie’s computer in brief visits to her flat where I couldn’t really take my time and get it how I really wanted it to be.

However, sometime during the next week I’m finally going to have an internet connection hooked up in my flat; I cannot believe it’s taken so long!! After that I‘ll be able to update more often and more fully; with more pictures actually on the page and videos too! I’ll also be able to be in more personal contact – so please leave some comments, questions and/or suggestions – I’ll get back to you soon.

OK – and now today’s exciting update.


Since I arrived I’ve been helping Hoki Sensai to coach four 3rd year students who decided to enter the Speech contest. Their names are (from left to right) Mae, Sayaka, Kurumi and Sayuri.


And this is Hoki Sensai (Sensai being the title for a teacher; students call me Damon Sensai!)


The first two girls were doing recitals from fairytales (Puss in boots and Goldilocks) while the others were doing original speeches about important points in their lives. Mainly I had to work on pronunciation, tone and body language (mostly making eye contact and using gesture while speaking). We also had to work on timing as the speech shouldn’t go over 5 mins.

They all worked very hard and I was very pleased with their progress. On September 10th it was time for the first round of the competition; basically all the schools from the west side of the lake. So off we went to Otsu in a mini bus full of other ALTs, Japanese teachers and speech contest students.

It was an all day event, starting with the original speeches and, after lunch, the recitals. In the breaks all the students rushed outside to practice with their teachers. So now I know the stories of Puss in Boots and Goldilocks well enough to do a recital myself!

It was a beautiful day, and from where we were we had a really nice view across Otsu bay and the huge water fountains built into the bay.

Despite nerves all my students made a good effort and Sayaka (doing Goldilocks) actually won the 3rd place from the recitals – so team Imazu was very happy! So well done Sayaka, she did do a really good recital with all the gestures we practiced; and the fact that she is as cute as a button probably helped too :-)

This also means she is through to the next round of the competition – the whole prefecture round in October, which means more training and another ‘business’ trip to the other side of the lake. So expect an update soon. Meanwhile, here are the round one pictures.


Posted by DKJM74 05:26 Comments (0)

2 Day Kayaking Trip

(And BBQ and North Lake Pics)

I’m writing this on September 23rd having just got back from my Silver Week trips to Kyoto, Osaka and Nagoya – and as much as I’d like to write about all that while it’s fresh in my head, I’ve still got all of the events from the beginning of September to write about.

So let’s start September off with the photos from the full 2 day kayaking trip across the lake which happened over the 6th and 7th.


http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2019913&id=1122485897&l=92fe86ebc8 (As usual click here to see the full gallery!)

Basically it was simply a bigger version of what I did on my first day of work, with more students, more teachers and about 20 parents joining the trip as well. Oh, and we all got to wear lovely pink Imazu 2009 Kayaking trip T-Shirts – fashion item of the year!




We had an early meet at the school that the students had to cycle to the beach in Makino to start while the teachers got driven there. This time getting started was more logistically challenging with more support boats and even one of the ferries that crosses the lake joining us a central support boat.

Finally everything was ready and we started with a pistol shot


and then it was the same as before switching between the support boats and the kayaks again. Only this time I got to do the full trip meaning I could stay overnight in the hotel in Nagahama. I didn’t really have time to go into Nagahama but I did have a quick look at the castle.


The students also put on a show in the evening to entertain us – the best part of which was a brief version of Snow White, where the boy who thought it was funny to play Snow White at the school with his friends obviously regretted it in front of the full audience.

The return trip was even more fun as things were a bit more relaxed. On the lunch break stop the students were allowed to get in the water and swim and play around in all their kayaking gear – which looked like fun so I joined them too; making it the second time I’ve ended up swimming in my trousers in the lake then just dried off in the sun – the first time was 2 days earlier at a BBQ for the new JETS arranged by some local Japanese people we welcome us (Thanks Yo and Hatsumi for that!!).

At that BBQ not only did we get lots of tasty food, but Marilyn and Leila also pulled an old bike out of the lake and I got to impersonate a big dead catfish – which is always fun.


After the BBQ, I was still in a swimming mood so Leila and I cycled up to my favourite beach on the North end of the lake and ate ice cream, checked out a really weathered Buddha statue (that looks like a zombie now) and swam. I mentioned this beach before – and I had my camera this time! So you can see a few BBQ and North Lake photos here.


I’d also like to take this opportunity to point out LEILA AND I ARE JUST FRIENDS!!! I stress this because I am getting kind of tired of Japanese people asking if she’s my wife just because we hang out quite a lot. So, we have a similar sense of (very inappropriate) humour and an overlapping taste in music – but IT isn’t there; and now I’m beginning to meet some nice Japanese girls and collect phone numbers I really don’t need people thinking I’m married!! 

Posted by DKJM74 03:24 Comments (0)


(Other highlights from August)

Writing a blog is strange – even though I feel like I’ve written an awful lot, I’m still condensing a whole month into a few hundred words and pictures. It gives a very distorted picture – maybe I look like I’m having a great time at the fireworks BBQ party, and it was alright – but it was something I could quite happily have lived without; while on the other hand a lot of the really great moments are so short, unexpected or simple that I don’t get a record of them; just the light on the lake, or over the rice fields and distant hills near my school (which I don’t feel I’ve really caught in any of the pictures) and the hum of the cicadas in the air. And moments like the one where one of the Japanese teachers came up to me and said ‘DO-YOU-WANT-A-CUP-OF-COFFEE?? Is my English good?’, or Leila and I singing The Sex Pistols in a small karaoke bar in Shinasahi where I don’t think they’ve even had a non-Japanese customer before. I guess what I’m trying to say is that what these pictures don’t show is that I’m having a wonderful experience here, a kind of pinch-myself-on-the-arm-is-this-really-happening experience sometimes.

Anyway, as August went on I had less free time as school was starting up again and I began to prepare and teach lessons; and to coach four students for a speech contest. However, I still got to do a few nice day trips. So you’ve had a general collection of random bits and pieces from all around Takashima – but I have ventured to other parts of the Shiga prefecture as well so here are some pictures from those trips.

August 22nd - Nagahama (via the island of the BAD birds)


So, Leila needed to go to a shop in Nagahama on the other side of the lake and she asked me to go along to help out with the Japanese communication; which while not quite being the blind leading the blind, it is at least the very short sighted leading the blind.

To make it a bit more interesting we decided to take the ferry across the lake and stop off at the island in the middle (in the background of many of the Kayaking pictures) and see the shrine there. The island looks pretty bare as most of the trees have lost their greenery thanks to the BAD birds. Apparently the droppings of the birds that settle there are so acidic that it’s like acid rain, and strip the trees bare once it gets into the ground.

The island was also the first place around here I’ve seen that seems to understand tourism, once you get off the ferry you have to pay again to see the shrine (even though most shrines on the mainland are free) and photographers take the visitors pictures to sell them when they leave. The shrine isn’t much special except for its location and once nice open wooden corridor with nice views.

Nagahama itself feels much more like a… real place than anything on the west side of the lake. We didn’t have too much time to really explore, but we looked around the streets that make up the covered shopping arcade.

Best spot though was the small ‘museum’ of toys/collectible figures – where I got chased….


… and brutally killed by Godzilla.


However, not being one to let a small thing like death stop me, I was back on my feet two days later.

August 24th - Mt.Hiei


Although this was a Monday, I had a substitute holiday thanks to the upcoming two day Kayaking trip which would take place on a Sunday and Monday. So I decided to take that day while the kids were still on holiday and it would be easier for me to be away.

Looking for a reasonable one day trip, I ended up taking the train to the south end of the lake and Hieizan. There’s another famous temple complex there near the top of the mountain, reached by a special ‘train’ on one side or a cable car on the other.

It’s a big spread out collection of buildings, some designated as National treasures (due to being built around the 12th century, and being where the first Japanese novel was supposedly written). So despite the fact that all of these shrines and temples do seem to blur into one mass of red pointy architecture after a bit I decided to go and have a look – and it certainly was red and pointy!

As an added bonus I got to walk the rest of the way to the top of the mountain from the temple (because I couldn’t work out the bus timetable – not by choice) to visit the Garden Museum there. There are some really nice views of the lake and Otsu on the south shore from up there. The gardens are modelled on French impressionist paintings and Monet’s water garden (which, having been there, I have to say they’ve done a good job of recreating). Reproductions of the original painting are dotted around the gardens as well. This probably explains the small army of amateur painters at the base of the mountain; expressing their unique vision en masse – how Japanese!

August 29th – Hikone


I only have a few pictures of this as I left the memory card for the camera at home and was very limited on how many pictures I could take – so some of these are from Connie’s camera not mine.

Anyway, this was a JET organised trip to Hikone castle with an English tour provided by two Japanese volunteers. The obvious main feature of the site is the white castle keep on the top of the hill, overlooking a nice Japanese garden below.

To be honest I don’t remember much about that trip except what you can see in the pictures for yourselves. After that tour, I ditched most of the other JETs and went few stops down the line on the train to Omi-Hachimon to get a cheap mobile phone I’d arranged for myself and spent a long time sorting out a Japanese mobile phone contract: successfully.

And that brings us to the end of August only really looking at key trip and days – I’ve still got stuff about the full two day Kayaking trip and the speech contest to write up; and next week there’s another block of public holidays so I’ve got 5 days off work and am planning to travel out of Shiga for the first time since I arrived – to do a tour of the Kiso Valley area and meet one of my pen friends in Nagoya. BUT, once I’ve blogged all that, then I should be able to put something about my more everyday life up; stuff about the school and my local area for example.

Posted by DKJM74 04:03 Comments (0)

Getting Settled

Exploring Takashima, Obon Week


Now please bear in mind that everything I’ve reported from Japan so far (The flight out, the Tokyo orientation, the trip to Shiga, the local training, the kayaking trip and the fireworks in Shiga and Imazu) all happened in one week.

A wonderful, mad, exciting week – but also a hectic and tiring week without any chance to really relax and settle into my new life. The next week things began to slow down a little. There was still a lot to do – meetings to attend, offices to go to and paperwork to do – but there was also more personal time to get to know the local area.

I got to spend a couple of easy days at the school, because until August 27th it was still the summer holiday and the only students around were those doing sports club training. Many of the teachers had taken holiday too, and those that hadn’t are either training clubs or doing administrative work – so there was a half day closing feel to the whole school. I got the guided tour and some basic daily work information and was pretty much left to my own devices as there wasn’t a lot to do. Wanting to seem pro-active I asked if I could start an English notice board for the students and was given a nice big one just outside the staffroom, so I started putting together some materials for that.

Then before I’d even had time to really get into that I basically had 5 days off work, because it was Obon; a kind of unofficial national holiday when many people travel home to see their families. So, I was told that as long as I stayed in Takashima city limits I didn’t have to come into work on Thursday, Friday or Monday.

So I set about exploring Takashima. Takashima is an odd place, although it’s classed as one city it is made up of 5 distinct separate places; Takashima, Ado-gawa, Shinasahi, Imazu (where I live) and Makino. I can cycle to Shinashi or Makino easily, but it’s easier to take a train to go further afield. Not that there are any really huge places of interest in any of the five areas – they’re all small quite rural communities that combine nice lakes side views, rice fields, a small shopping area and a few places to eat or drink – oh, and a couple of shrines and temples of course.

So instead of trying to do a gallery of each place I’ve decided to compile a few themed galleries, starting with Biwako (Lake Biwa). Ironically the nicest lake views I’ve seen yet were on the north tip of the lake just past Makino and I didn’t have my camera with me then – but I’m sure I’ll go back again soon! So here are some lake views from Biwako taken in and around Takashima; and a few from a visit to Omi-Maiko, a popular swimming beach, just outside Takashima.


Now, heading inland, some non-watery scenery from Takashima and a few ‘social’ pictures; including a Shinashi windmill village (three windmills I think!), eating sushi and some BBQ party pictures that didn’t really fit anywhere else.


Lastly, all things bright and beautiful. There are so many interesting creatures here. I’ve turned into a real bug hunter. So be warned - this last collection if full of all the furry, scaly, multi legged beasties that you might not want to have seen by surprise in the other galleries.


There are spiders, crabs, lizards, HUGE grasshoppers, dragonflies and even a cat in there. Enter at your own risk – but I am quite proud of some of these shots, in particular the ones of the dragonfly in flight. It was laying eggs in the shallow water and with some patience I was able to get very close and get some great shots; but I suffer for my art, spend too much time in boggy woods snapping pictures of dragonflies and land crabs and the mosquitoes do find you – look at the wonderful bites I got!


So that is a scattered collection of small moments and shining fragments of Takashima, I haven’t bothered with many pictures of the Imazu itself as it isn’t much to look at but I will go and do an Imazu photo shoot later. However, I hope it gives you a feel for where I am now.

Posted by DKJM74 03:04 Comments (0)

Come On Baby Light My Fire(works)

Otsu and Imazu; 2 fireworks shows in 2 days




August 7th. Otsu, capital city of the Shiga prefecture as seen from a window in the board of education building.
Today is JET survival training… so it have must have only been by luck that I’d survived up until now. Come to that it must still be just luck I’m surviving now, as I don’t remember much we got told. Some of it was a bit odd; like how to use the train in Japan, after we’d just taken a train to get to Otsu (but I do understand how to read the time table better now, so I guess it was useful). We also got taken on a shopping trip to get to know a few local shops, including the 100 Yen shop where you can pick up almost anything cheaply – including, not very realistic, fake breasts … which two of the guys just had to buy. What can I say they’re young and American – here’s Tyler modelling his new jumper lumps; he’s actually a nice guy, really!


Well, as unbelievable as it might seem, fake boobs were not the highlight of the day. We arrived in Japan at the height of firework season and the biggest show in Shiga prefecture was happening in Otsu that night. So, whilst most folks headed off to nearby Kyoto for a night out, I (and a few others - including Tyler sans breasts) stayed in Otsu. First, we just wandered around enjoying the festival atmosphere and the beautiful yukata (light summer kimonos) being worn, and then we staked out a spot by the, already very crowded, lakeside to wait for the show. In the end we got a good spot on top of a big rock which we shared with four schoolboys who were the only other people brave (or stupid) enough to climb up there – if you don’t count the tree growing on top of it too.
So we waited, the sky faded to black and 8 O’clock it exploded! It was a long show, I watched the first half hour from the top of the rock getting some nice pictures – I really like the ones filtered through the tree branches. Then as I had a train to catch I climbed down and worked through the crowd to the train station taking more pictures as I went.

But that wasn’t it for fireworks, the very next day (August 8th) my town, Imazu, was having its local fireworks; which apparently should have been a week earlier but got rained off luckily for me. Obviously, this was much smaller, but the atmosphere was really nice – and I got VIP seating on the portside seats promised to me thanks to gaijin smash (which is a wonderful phrase meaning special preferential treatment given to foreigners – yeah, gaijin smash!).

I had thought I might actually be the only JET there this time, but then three girls from group A turned up; being Group A they had arrived a week earlier and had done their training already, so I hadn’t met them before. Luckily my gaijin smash credit extended to an extra 3 seats, so I ended up watching fireworks with Kitty, Jessica and Leila (from left to right).


As you can see from that picture, fireworks were not the end of the evening. Someone suggested karaoke, and though in the past I might have smashed myself in the head with a hammer rather than go to a karaoke spot, things have changed. Firstly, in the spirit of getting the most out of my time in Japan I’m really going to try and be more social and open to things like this, and secondly, three nice girls were asking me!

Initial reservations aside, it was really fun and nothing like I expected. I thought it’s be a smoky bar with a little stage and us having to wait our turn while drunken Japanese business men crooned Elvis songs in Jinglish, but what we actually got was a private air conditioned karaoke box – with slightly dubious hostess bar décor. And, as these pictures don’t have any audio, I’m just going to say my singing was great and leave it at that; well Jessica said something about going again sometime so it can’t have been that bad.


Posted by DKJM74 04:23 Comments (0)

Lake Biwa

(My First Day of Work)


August 6th, my first day of real work in Japan; time to get out the suit and tie, practice my bowing and set 3 alarm clocks so I’m not late – right?

Well maybe, if today wasn’t the day the second year students practice kayaking across the lake in preparation for the main kayak trip in September – so day one and I’m getting a chance to get acquainted with Lake Biwa already
I’m sure that throughout this blog I’ll be posting a lot of pictures of the lake as it does dominate the prefecture somewhat - but it is very beautiful. I can’t think of a better way to start my life in Japan. It was such a nice way to meet some of my students and fellow teachers in a really relaxed way. Here are a few people I now work with.


Far left - …..Sensei; the school principle (So much for the formal introduction we’d been told to expect!)
Next – Aiba Sensei; another English teacher and my direct supervisor, a very nice and helpful lady.
Top right - …. San; the school nurse.
Bottom right – Nakagawa Sensei; sits opposite me in the teacher’s room, not sure what she teaches and she speaks very little English (but understands a lot I think!) - But she’s very lively and has a great sense of humour as you can see in her glove footed monkey impression here.

We started off at about 6am from the beach at Makino and headed West across the lake (about 20km) to Nagahama – with a lunch break on the north shore. To do this we had two support boats that circled around with about 8 teachers and students onboard who sometimes switched places with tired kayakers, so everybody got a turn. I started off in one of the support boats (a fishing boat by trade) and got to do three stretches of open water in the kayaks. That was a nice mix as I got to enjoy kayaking without getting too tired and had plenty of time on the support boat to enjoy the sights and take pictures – which you can enjoy here.


My only complaint about this trip was I only got to do half of it; whilst the students and teachers stayed overnight in Nagahama and kayaked back again the next day I had to be driven back to Imazu that night so I could attend another JET job training in Otsu the next day. Still this was just the practice run and I’ll get to do the full 2 days trip in September.

Posted by DKJM74 04:21 Comments (0)

Tokyo (a-go-go)

The Blog Starts Here




August 1st. After lots of packing, weighing bags, unpacking and repacking the departure day finally arrived. Thanks to having no choice, but to get a very early bus, I was one of the first at the airport in London, but soon familiar faces from the London training began to arrive and, although it was actually a really long process, it now seems like it happened all so quickly.

The flight followed almost the same route as my holiday flight 2 years ago, going over the huge frozen wasteland that forms the Urals. Spectacular to see from a plane, but not a place I’d like to be left to walk home from. The time passed quite quickly; chatting to the guys sitting next to me, watching movies and playing games on the screen built into the chair. Then somewhere we crossed the date line and it was my birthday. August 2nd, several hours ahead of time as we were flying into the east, meaning it was still August 1st and my sister’s birthday in England. So, for the first time ever, Emma and I shared our Birthday’s on different days, but at the same time – that made my head hurt. I guess time is indeed relative. Then 12 hours later, and 9 hour in the future, we were there – Tokyo.
We were met at the airport by a small army of purple T-shirted, grinning JET representatives who guided us through the airport, helped us sort our luggage and packed us onto buses for the hotel in Shinjuku. The hotel was surprisingly posh and elegant and certainly not a place I could have afforded to stay in if it wasn’t for the generosity of the Japanese government; so my thanks to them!

Once there we were checked in and given rooms; each shared with two other JETS. I was pleased to find that both my roommates had lived in Japan before and weren’t going crazy at being in Japan for the first time; in fact they both soon left to meet Japanese friends leaving me with a bit of peace and quiet.

Already being exhausted from not sleeping on the flight, and having been in Tokyo before, I decided not to go too far and just stayed in the Shinjuku area close to the hotel; which consists mostly of electronics shops and places to eat. Everywhere there were little groups of nervous and confused young foreigners who were obviously JETS that didn’t speak any Japanese. My Japanese proved good enough to ask what I was ordering, but not good enough to fully understand the answer; so while I was expecting beef I was still surprised to get beef livers. After eating and taking a few photos from the 45th floor of the business plaza opposite the hotel I tried to get some sleep, but couldn’t thanks to jetlag, an uncomfortable bed and a roommate who snored (and spoke – in Japanese) while sleeping.

By next morning the full 600 or so JETS in Group B, from the UK, US and Australia and elsewhere, had arrived and the orientation training began with formal opening address from representative of various Japanese governmental bodies. This was followed by prefectural meetings and seminars over the next two days. There were all kinds of people from all over the being sent to every corner of Japan, the diversity was quite incredible; though I was the oldest person I met there by a good few years.

The seminars did fluctuate from being essential, through entertaining, to useless, and in the end it felt more like an exercise in letting people know that there was a support system in place and that they weren’t alone. Personally I just wanted to get his part over and done with and get to my placement as soon as possible.

August 5th, the training was over and the mass of JETS was splitting up into smaller prefectural groups to move away from Tokyo. About 15 of us were heading out to Shiga prefecture by Shinkansen train accompanied by existing Shiga JETS and Mr. Takeda, a very nice representative of the Takashima city Board of Education; who had actually spent some time in Nottingham. From Tokyo we went to Kyoto and then changed onto a local train to Otsu, capital of the Shiga prefecture, where we walked to the Board of Education … this is a good point to mention the weather.

Tokyo was hot, and humid, but a little rainy and just about bearable. Shiga is a little bit more south and even hotter and even more humid, when the doors of the air conditioned train opened the heat hit you like a punch from an angry hot cloud and you started to sweat – it was so hot that the little rubber tyres on my bag’s wheels just kind of melted and exploded off leaving me rattling along on hard plastic.

Once at the BoE building, we changed into formal wear again and went to meet the representatives of our various cities. I was expecting some big hall with a stage, but in reality it was something like a largish classroom with two groups of chairs facing each other. We filed into one group of chairs facing the various representatives and one by one briefly introduced ourselves in Japanese, and then the representatives introduced themselves in English. Every time a new rep stood up I wondered if it would be Yoko Okimoto, my new BoE supervisor, until it was the last person and… it wasn’t her either. She’d been delayed in traffic due to a road accident and wasn’t there, so I’d introduced myself to an empty seat without knowing it

So one by one the others left to go to their various towns in Shiga and I was left with Louise and Peter who were also waiting for Okimoto-Sensei. However, we didn’t wait too long and soon she arrived along with Aiba-Sensei, my direct supervisor in my school in Imazu and we were off again. Away from Tokyo, away from Kyoto, away from Otsu and getting more and more rural as we headed up the east side of lake Biwa to Takashima; some things are very similar, like the roads and the cars, but other things are very different, like the road signs which include warning signs about bears and monkeys … yes, monkeys. There are monkeys here, which is so cool (even though I haven’t actually seen any of them yet). The noise is also incredible, the air is just humming with the sound of Cicadas in the trees or frogs on the rice fields and god knows what else – my last vacation here was in the spring and I got no idea of just how tropical it gets here in the summer.

One last stop in Takashima’s local BoE office in Ado-Gawa (One of the five towns that make up Takashima city) to fill in some paperwork and then we last three separated and went with our supervisors to our towns in Takashima and our flats – and so after a long few days I finally got ‘home’ … not that I got much time to rest, the next day I’d be starting work.

Posted by DKJM74 04:21 Comments (0)

P.S. Oxford


I’m going to keep this entry short and sweet as it seems strange to add it now when I’m already in Japan and ready to start the real Japan Blog – but on the 24th and 25th of July I took a couple of days to go down to Oxford and visit an old college friend, Julian.

I’d actually lost contact with Julian for several years, but thanks to ‘Friends Reunited’ on the internet we got back in touch last year and managed to have a mini reunion of our old ‘gang’.

Here you can see us aged about 17 or so


and then about 17 years later.


Julian and Helen are now married and have 2 kids; Samuel and Isobel. So, it was nice to see them all again and spend a bit of time in Oxford.

Thanks to delayed trains and the like, I only really got one afternoon to explore the town and could quite happily have spent an extra couple of days just looking at the wonderful architecture of the various college buildings (some of which are used in the Harry Potter films as parts of Hogwarts school). Oxford is, I think, what many non-English people think all of England looks like – which could explain why it’s almost impossible to see anybody English in the town centre, it’s so full of tourists.

The second day we had a ‘family’ day out to go to Uffington, home of the famous white chalk horse. There are many examples of figures cut into the white chalk hills in the south west of England, but the Uffington horse is the oldest of them (I think). It was created about 3’000 years ago in the Bronze Age – and nobody really knows why; most likely it was just a marker for navigation and land boarders though.



Posted by DKJM74 04:08 Comments (0)

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