sore thumbs

August 19, 2008

World, well I’ve got a bit of time to waste while the other teachers are deliberating over their staff meeting (I was excused immediately after giving my welcome speech on account of not being able to speak Japanese) so I figured I would try to jot down some things in the meantime.

Hopefully most of you are aware that I’m in Japan right now. Since I got here I’ve been sweating nonstop, getting hideously sunburnt (not the best first impression although it really does drive home the point that I’m the whitest guy these people will ever meet) and soaking wet in the rain. Yeah, there are only three seasons here: hot, cold and wet. Sometimes the wet season overlaps with the other two. I want to buy a motorised scooter so I don’t have to ruin my business threads by cycling to school every day but that idea didn’t go over too well. The reason is that the Board of Education in Fukushima-ken are subsidising my rent and decked out my apartment with a refrigerator, brand new microwave over that is smarter than I am, futons, a television, stereo, desk and chair and other stuff. The brand new bike was the icing on the Japanese cake and they would be offended if I didn’t use it. On the plus side: abs of steel.

There’s always lots of hushed conversation going on amongst the female students when I strut scurry down the halls at my school, followed by plenty of giggling once I am out of earshot barely six feet away. I guess the fact that I’m a single white male replacing a taken Asian female is pretty exciting for these people. The teachers though are all amazingly friendly and genki: I haven’t met one yet that I wouldn’t have liked to have as one of my own teachers back home.

It’s still technically summer holidays now but most of the kids come to school anyway to practise their instruments, or baseball, or cheerleading, or their being Japanese. It’s pretty awesome and schools definitely rock out in a different way than they do in Australia. I will never understand how these girls are allowed to wear their skirts and socks in that particular way, though.

Since arriving I’ve been to karaoke a few times, mostly with other whities though. Shamefully, I’ve already started memorising some of the more ubiquitous J-Pop and have since come to the realisation that there is nothing funnier than seeing drunk white dudes singing Japanese punk anthems.  Saw some amazing fireworks in Shirakawa as part of the obon festival the other week. I have rad videos but alas I’m on the crappy work computer and don’t have access to my pictures or movies right now.

I saw frogs, grasshoppers and foot-long dragonflies in my front yard. Not that it’s much of a yard. It’s like a gravel driveway with some pitiful grass trying it’s best to grow. There is like a town alarm clock that sounds like an especially loud doorbell that goes off every morning at 7am and I imagine wakes up the entire prefecture. It’s always a bummer but it definitely prevents me from the possibility of sleeping in.

Attempts at Western food are even more questionable in Japan than they are in China, but it’s countered by the fact that you can buy enormous boxes of sushi from supermarkets and 7-11s for not much money at all. When in Rome. Virginia and I are still on a quest to find some good places to eat in our little town but given her awesome Japanese skills I reckon we’ll find something sooner or later.

It’s been heaps of fun meeting all the other new JETs and talking about our various homelands. Being Aussie has never been such an easy in-road into all sorts of social circles. Yesterday I showed my supervisor all the bizarre Australian animals I could think of courtesy of Wikipedia. Seriously, if you needed proof against “intelligent” design, look no further than the platypus. The koala is a perennial favourite amongst the Japanese and I broke a few hearts when on my first day I strolled around the school handing them out to unsuspecting students.

In spite of Japan’s reputation for having a declining birth rate, my prefecture is notable for having the nation’s highest rate of teenage pregnancy. Don’t look at me, I’ve only been here a few weeks. Anyway, the number of attractive young girls pushing prams around shopping centres is absolutely mental. The girl who sold me my mobile phone was a student at my school just last year, according to my supervisor, and already obviously pregnant. What’s with that? The prefecture is also famous for producing a huge amount of Japan’s peaches. You could bludgeon someone to death with one of those things, they are the size of my head.

There is also an uncomfortable number of dudes carrying around manbags. At first I was skeptical – surely the girlfriend of that guy with the Louis Vitton handbag with gold trimmings is getting on at the next station? – but it’s actually cool over here. I have never felt so comfortable being as skinny as I am, because I’m still a damn shot more masculine than most of these Japanese guys.

Television, while shockingly ethnocentric, is a blast. The Olympics coverage has been complete balls (most recent example: just last night they replayed all nine innings of a Japan vs. Canada softball match immediately after it finished) and I have never been so sick of the sight of one athlete as I am of Kosuke Kitajima (OK, I lied – I got pretty damn tired of Jana Pittman), but the bizarre array of game shows and variety shows is astounding. The other week I saw a guy whose challenge was to do do a forwards roll atop a three-metre diving board, with a balloon at the end that he was meant to burst. Hilarity ensues. Their soaps are pretty amazing, too: imagine a sexed-up schoolyard version of Neighbours with even worse acting and editing. Not that I can understand what is being said, but do you really need to?

Politeness and courtesy levels are through the roof here, until they get a few drinks in ’em. Rest assured there will always be some kid who wants to shake your hand and practice his two lines of English on you over the course of any given night out. Older people and females remain timid, though.

Let’s see, what else. I have noticed other quirky things since arriving here but I’ve generally been so busy or tired to write it down anywhere. Classes start this Friday so I’m sure things will only get weirder.

Take care, everyone.