Saturday, 26 October 2013

Birrfday weekend

Last weekend I had my birthday. It was a great time.

Friday Saturday and Sunday nights were all incredibly fun.

Friday night looked like this:

This was in a local japanese style bar in Katsuta with some new local amigos.

On Saturday we went to hitachi sea-side park. Here's some pictures:

We also went on some amusement park rides, zara was taught how to throw an American style football by some Americans and Alistair hatched out of an egg (as shown above).

Saturday night was the big drunken duck Halloween party in Mito, we went in a big group in our costumes looking something like this:

The party was incredibly fun- there were a lot of people there - somehow not many pictures were taken at the actual event. All I will say is that japanese people do Halloween costumes exceptionally well. 

On Sunday I had an American style pancake breakfast round Lisa's... Who could ask for a better birthday breakfast? I then went round to Daniels and played Settlers of Catan 3 times (my new board game addiction). After the last round those of us remaining went to an American themed bar in Mito. For my birthday, I was taught how to play beer pong properly on a professional table, by Tommy, a real life American frat boy (something that up to this point in my life I only believe existed in American Pie movies).

Funny how you move to Japan wanting to plunge into Japanese culture only to find yourself learning more and more about America. If I was going to get all snide I would make a comment about how this bears some sort of reflection to American imperialism in the modern world .... But I won't.

Friday, 25 October 2013


On Marc's last night of his trip to Japan we stayed at an onsen resort in Hakone. Here are some pictures:


Can you spot the MASSIVE spider:

The very amazing meal with a million dishes that eventually gave us both food poisoning:

This was the second course:

Yukata fashion:

What a faux-pas, I am totally wearing shoes on the tatami mat - oh the shame!!!!!:

Our private room where we had all meals served to us - as well as futons laid us for us to sleep on:

Tuesday, 22 October 2013


I feel so bad.

I was invited a couple weeks ago to a work party with all the teachers at my base school. I was pretty excited about it because I've hardly socialized with my colleagues. I thought it would be fun being the token gaijin at a very traditional Japanese gathering.

So long story short I had food poisoning last week from a very expensive meal at an onsen resort, as you do,  and couldn't go. In fact I cant think of anything worse than having diarrhea at a bar full of all the people you work with, that probably has one toilet, likely to be a god forsaken squatter toilet.

"oh well", I thought,  "Im sure they wont care that I'm not there anyway..... conversation with me is so limited due to my very poor Japanese"...

Yesterday at school I spent a few minutes organising the space on my desk. Loads of random bits of paperwork and all sorts of scraps had started to build up. As I was examining everything, I stumbled upon a piece of paper buried at the bottom of a pile. The invitation to the work party, a photocopy that everyone must have received. Whoever made it put a lot of time and effort into it - pact full of comical drawings and details, a map drawn out. There was a big section created for me, the new person, saying how honored and excited they were for me to join them, a big banner saying "welcome zara" with a bunch of  little sketches.

It was such a sweet gesture. How bitter sweet to find such a lovely invitation to a party I didn't end up going to. 

Monday, 21 October 2013

A Special occasion

I was informed early on that I would be going to a special school (to teach durrrr). I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’ve never worked in that sort of an environment before. I’m not even sure of the politically correct name for such a place, or for its students. I thought that the term ‘special’ was considered to be offensive but I really don’t know.

There was a big meeting for all the prefectural JETS a few weeks ago. We were given a talk on visiting special schools as many JETS have been assigned to them in the area. Some schools are for the deaf, or blind, some for the physically handicapped, some for the mentally handicapped (am I using the right terminology?).

I was informed that my school would be for the mentally disabled, but that the severity of their disability was low. In fact, I might find some of them to be more intelligent than some of the students at my regular high schools – so I really wasn't sure what to think. Actually, I thought of that movie ‘Rain man’ and then felt really perplexed. I didn’t really think too much about it after that – I knew that my predecessor only had to make a visit to the special school just once, so it didn't seem like a big deal.

However, before going in for my first trip, I was informed that they in fact wanted me to go in four more times and that the dates had already been arranged. This made me a little nervous – one time is fine, go for the experience, see what happens, doesn't matter if you totally hate it - but multiple trips means that I have to really have my A-game on – make lasting impressions and not do or say something completely offensive or stupid without thinking. I was worried that I would secretly despise going to the special school, maybe I’d find the whole situation too overwhelming or immensely stressful – or that I’d act overly sympathetic or apathetic towards the students. You just don’t know.

My first visit was on Friday, I arrived at 8.20 as instructed. I was greeted by one of the nicest ladies I've ever met – a very sweet and pretty teacher who resembled an anime character. This woman had that look where she could have been anywhere between 18 to 40 years old. I later found out she was 37 – I cannot believe how well Japanese people age. As always with a first day at a new school I was rushed into the school office and made to sign a million little slips of paper, sign loads of things with my hanko (personal name stamp), bow at loads of people and meet the principal (and of course bow at him too in a really accentuated manner). I was then led to the morning assembly where I had to introduce myself to the whole school – this kind of thing doesn't make me nervous anymore, you just pretend to be one of those people dressed in a mini mouse costume as part of a choreographed dance parade at Disneyland. Smile a lot and pretend that no one notices you from behind your mask.

From the moment I watched the students participating in their ohiyo goziamas routines – bowing to each other in lines – laughing at the teachers speeches and laughing with each other – I knew that I would have a great day, they were clearly very sweet and happy kids. It’s too longwinded to describe every detail of the day – quite frankly typing this much quickly becomes exhausting, especially on a post-birthday hangover. So I will try summarise some of the stuff that happened/ things I learnt:

  •   Everyone was insanely nice - Everyone at the school had an amazing sense of humour, especially the students and the teachers….so yea, everyone.
  • The students at the school had such a great energy that the lessons were a total joy.
  • I found out that this is one of the very few special schools where the students actually had to sit an entrance exam to get into. The kids at this school are capable of getting jobs after they graduate. The have normal lessons where they do Japanese, English and maths, but they also specialise on life-skills courses. So the students learn how to do easy task jobs – working in a café, working in a kitchen, cleaning, warehouse work, home economics…. You get the point.
  • One of the kids had grown up in America (with Japanese parents) and had moved to Japan 3 years ago, so English was his first language. He seemed very intelligent. I had to eat lunch in a posh meeting room with him, the headmaster and some of the other ‘top students’. It was one of the most bizarre meals of my life. The American kid was acting as a translator. I was asked a mixture of questions, some quite serious and normal from the principal and some pretty odd ones by the students. The conversation took many strange paths – but generally we all enjoyed a chuckle, some great food and one kid showing off his Michael Jackson moonwalk impression.
  • In one class the students had to give a tour of the school – the whole idea was for them to use direction language, like “go left, go up the stairs” and so on…. The students would be given a place in the school to guide me to and we would walk together as they did so. I made the same joke repeatedly where if they told me to turn a bit too early or late then I would pretend to walk into a wall or door….. 90% of the students absolutely loved it and about 10% got really upset thinking that I had a genuine accident. One girl came up to me afterwards very upset to apologise, I tried to explain that it was a joke – but it was obvious that she didn't understand. This made me feel slightly bad, but the teacher told me that this was very normal behaviour.
  • In each class I had to go round and shake the student’s hands. They each had to tell me their name and something about themselves, this was my favourite part. Some of the stuff the students said was so weird and hilarious. Some of the students told me about something they liked, like ‘cats’ or ‘computers’ or whatever, many of them got incredibly excited when I said “me too” – also some students were so incredibly shy and nervous that they just completely froze, or giggled hysterically, it was so cute.

All in all my trip to the special school went very well, I am happy to say that I am genuinely excited to be going back in a few weeks time. When I left all the teachers walked me to my car and waved me off like at the end of a movie.

Thursday, 17 October 2013

Kyoto in pictures 1

Shrines shrines shrines and more shrines.

Kyoto is the old capital of Japan. It is your standard japanese city filled with 7-elevens, karaoke, ramen joints and a complicated transport system. What makes it stand out is that it has more shrines, castles, temples and pagodas than you can shake a stick at. I went with marc. We stayed there 3 nights. We explored, ate a lot of different and delicious stuff, found a few tucked away interesting bars, managed to chats with some very friendly locals and did a lot of sightseeing. Here are some pictures:

Tofukuji temple:

Fushimi-inari taisha shrine:
consisting of thousands of orange gates- we climbed a mountain walking through all of them.
We stopped for lunch at this beautiful traditional restaurant overlooking the forest:

At kiyomizu-dera temple:

Can you spot the temple in the forest?

Is it true? I do do I doooooooooooo:

#Yolo- we got a rickshaw:

Kyoto 2

Oooooooooghhh pretty lights:

Nijojo castle:

Kitano-tenmangu Shrine:

Very famous golden thingy also know as kinkakuju temple:

Traditional little tea garden:

A frothy green tea with some very gross traditional japanese dessert food:

Ryoanji temple:

Monday, 7 October 2013

Harajuku Kawaii festival 2013

Over the weekend Marc arrived in Japan. I met him on Friday night a couple hours after he had flown in - I jumped onto the express train after work. A journey that lasts just over an hour straight into central Tokyo from Katsuta, my local train station - not bad at all - shame it costs 4000Yen each time (about 30 quid). Anywho, I met him at the hotel we booked in Ueno. We went for a leisurely walk around the area whilst the surreal feeling of being in Tokyo for the first time slowly sunk in for Marc - we spent the evening catching up, getting a couple of drinks and munching on some overly greasy local cuisine. It wasnt a particularly exciting night, we were both exhausted (him understandably more so than me) and it was raining heavily.

 On Saturday we woke up right as rain. Refreshed and ready to go, we proceeded to have the greatest day in Tokyo I have yet experienced. 

 After breakfast, a brisk walk in Ueno park, a stop at a toy shop and a few snapchats - we decided that a trip to Harajuku might be a good way to begin. On the metro over there, I thought I might as well check out the Time Out Tokyo website- The first thing to come up for "whats happening in Tokyo this weekend" was a Kawaii festival taking place in Harajuku. It would be starting at the exact time of our arrival. Beautiful timing. The Harajuku Kawaii festival ( takes place on the first weekend of October every year apparently. 

Getting off the metro at Harajuku after a ride on the JR Yamanote line, we saw the typical things you see when in the world center of cuteness; a whole bunch of very kawaii people, places and things. We picked up our free festival tote bags and proceeded to move from location to location using our festival map. At each location you get a cute stamp in your cute guide book. Venues for the event were filled with young Japanese teenagers enjoying live shows from their favourite J-pop bands - performing ridiculously cutified music and over-the-top choreographed nonesense. It was awesome. Did I mention it was cute? I also bought an awesome hat that says "Burisil" on it. Who knows what that`s supposed to mean? Brazil? - I just wanted a gimicky looking beanie to help me access my inner kawaii. 

We stopped for lunch at an all you can eat dessert and candy restaurant - pictures to come - very silly but a great find. At most of the venues in this festival there were huge, slow queues to see the bands - and we really couldn`t be bothered for that - we were only succesfully getting glimpses by peering through opening doors. One venue which we got lost trying to find and almost gave up on was a godsend. It was the only venue at the festival which had an actual bar - meaning alcohol - meaning that most of the attendants of the festival were too young to get in - meaning no queue - excellent. I will fill in all the names of these places and include the very few pictures I took in another post - I dont have anything on me right now - Im at school, and am having another day stuck in the office with no lessons - snore. At this venue which was an underground bar we drank a couple cups of sake and saw two acts. The first was a band called "Neko punch" (neko means cat) This band was made up of a white lady singer, apparently from Surrey - one guy who played all of the instruments and a guy who danced like lady gaga. I`m assuming the later band member has no musical talent but was so desperate to join the band, that they sympathetically gave him the task of making a total idiot of himself on stage. The second act, whose name I`ve forgotten, included two young women wearing short skirts and cute furry bear-themed headgear, paws and other bear accessories whilst DJing and dancing to fast beat J-pop music - the crowd were very into it. Including myself might I add. One of the women onstage dictated the dance moves and as a crowd we copied. We became her minions doing anything and everything show asked of us. Marc joked that she could easily have turned us into an evil murderous posse. I believe that she has the power to become an evil dictator with a cute innocent front. I took a video of this which I will try to upload onto Youtube, because its worth watching. 

 What happened after this? more snapchats - wondering around Shibuya and finding all sorts of great things I had somehow always missed. I have been into Tokyo a few times, but its a difficult place for an outsider. Like London, you have to get to know the city somewhat before you can find anything truly worthwhile. I have previously wondered around knowing I was on the cusp of awesomeness, yet failing - on saturday it all clicked together and we just kept finding cool shit. I found an amazing vintage shop - great clothes cheap prices (marc wasnt too excited by this discovery - ill go back another time with some other friends I think) I also discovered the site of where a new Max Brenner is opening up. Only people who have experienced this in Israel will understand my excitment with that one. We also found a newly openend Pinnochio shop - we chatted to the founder, a guy from Bristol as it happens. Who knows what`s happened in this mans life that he`s ended up selling Italian made wooden pinnochio merchandise in Shibuya (mostly consisting of creepy birdcall clocks). 

 We found a nice little Yaki-niku restaurant for dinner - a halloween themed bar for a few drinks - and then 2 hours of Karaoke, which i thought might suck with two people - but when its nomihodi (all you can drink) its never going to be disappointing. After our karaoke session was done - Marc waited for me outside as I ran back up to use the toilet. I heard the sound of Karaoke coming from a private party room and crashed a couple`s karaoke session - at first they were confused by the drunk gaijin - but then they enjoyed themselves as I danced to thier J-pop karaoke with my umbrella - using some dance moves I had learnt earlier that evening from the bear DJ lady. Its great when things just come together. 

 snapchatsnapchatsnapchat.... back onto the metro - fall asleep on Marcs shoulder- back to the hotel..pass out. What a great day. The end.

All you can eat dessert buffet: