27 January 2007

Wednesday 24th January 2007

I love my bike! It is the ants pants of bikes. It has two baskets (one on the front and one on the back) and I can go shopping and buy lots of things and everything still fits in it. I always seem to buy lots of clothes, food and everything else so it is really good that I have lots of space to put things in. It is so weird to see the bikes that people use here in Japan. Everyone has the same bike and they look so dorky because they all have baskets on them. If I took this bike to Australia, I would probably get bashed because it is so geeky looking, but here, it is the coolest thing!

The other day, Ito Sensei (one of the Japanese teachers at the school) made me this really cool welcome tag to put on my desk. The teachers here are so giving. I think it is like that in every school though because it is in the Japanese culture to give presents to people. I think that everyday I have been at this school, I have received some sort of present whether it be a biscuit or some tea or chocolates. They are always giving each other food to eat. I felt a little out of the loop so I went to Jupiters which is a shop that sells all sorts of Western foods and I bought lots of packets of M&M’s to give to them. I don’t think anyone here has ever tried M&M’s before! They were very appreciative of it.

Yesterday, one of the teachers gave me this little flower and it you put it in hot water and make Chinese tea with it. It looked so cool because it expanded in the water and all its leaves spread out inside the cup. I couldn’t resist taking a photo of it! She told me where the Chinese tea shop was so I will go there and buy some more myself! It was really nice!

Monday 22nd January 2007

Well I have settled in to Himeji now and this is my third week at my work. It is lunch time now and then I have one more lesson to go for the day. I have a pretty easy timetable here. I get ten fifty minute lessons off a week! In Australia, I only got three fifty minutes lessons off. I have so much spare time here, but I always have something to occupy myself with. I have made lots of resources for my lessons, I check my email, I learn Japanese and I update my website! I always find something to do. It is a pretty cruisy job because I am always in the room with the classroom teacher so if I don’t understand what the students are saying, the teacher can explain it to me. The teachers can speak in English so they are fairly easy to understand. There are times though when they don’t understand what I am saying or when I don’t understand what they are saying, but most of the time, we can understand each other.

I went to a tea ceremony on the weekend and it was really cool. We got to make green tea and whisk it with a special bamboo whisk. We ate Japanese sweets before drinking our tea which were made out of bean curd. This took the bitterness away from the tea as the Japanese green tea served in tea ceremonies is very bitter. We took lots of photos of beautiful Japanese girls in kimonos as well. It was lots of fun!

I also went to Osaka on the weekend. This is about a one hour train ride from Himeji. I went with most of the Australian teachers that are here in Japan with me. It was funny when Steve told me how to say, ‘I’m in Osaka’ in Japanese which is,’ Osaka ni imas’. Then I thought I would test it on a stranger walking by so I said to him in Japanese, ‘I am in Osaka!” and he and his girlfriend laughed at me and he said, “good for you!”

I spent so much money in Osaka. The fashion is so good and the clothes are so trendy that I couldn’t resist. I have never felt so girly in my life! It was good though. I bought a couple of formal dresses that I can wear to this formal dinner I will be going to in a couple of weeks time.

There are lots of things to look forward to. I will be making a trip to Hiroshima in about three weeks with the other Australian teachers. I can’t wait for that. It will be fantastic.

I have a funny story to tell. In the morning, I ride to the Himeji Station by bike and then I catch a train at the station to work. On the way to work the other day, I had lots of things in my bike basket and I went over a bump. A little Japanese man was pointing behind me telling me that I had dropped something from my bike. I went to get it and in the mean time, my lunch fell out of my basket into the dirt, my apple rolled onto the road and another Japanese lady almost stacked it trying to dodge all of my stuff on the footpath! The little Japanese man ran onto the road to get my apple and I had half my lunch to eat that day! The day was a disaster waiting to happen!

That same day, I was showing the students some photos of my friends and I tried to say friend in Japanese, but I said, ‘tamagochi’ which is that little computer game that kids play! All the kids laughed at me and the teacher said I had said the word wrong and it is actually supposed to be, ‘tomodachi’! Well I learnt the word friend the hard way because the students still come up to me and say,’ tamagochi’ when I walk past them in the corridor!

My Japanese can only get better from here!

20 January 2007

Tuesday 9th January 2007

It is 8:14am and I am sitting in the staff room at the Nada Junior High School. I got here at 7:55am and I got rushed into the principal’s office to meet the principal, then about one minute later I got rushed into the staff room to say a speech that I had prepared in Japanese to all the staff. There are about fifty teachers at this school which is a HUGE change from Peterborough! It is very formal and busy here.

Now, all the teachers are outside greeting the students and checking their hair and their uniforms. It is a pretty strict dress code here. I was told to wait in the staff room and meet the students at 8:50am in the gym for the opening ceremony. In about half an hour, I will have to say a speech I prepared to nine-hundred students and fifty staff members! It’s all pretty daunting, but hopefully I will be OK. There ware so many differences between schools in Australia and schools in Japan that there really is no comparison. Pretty much EVERYTHING is different!

Apparently, I have to make sure I am looking busy all the time which is why I decided to write all this down. There are still a few people in the staff room so I can’t just sit here and do nothing! I feel like I am WAY out of my comfort zone in a totally different school, in a totally different country and the people speak a totally different language! I don’t know the protocol here of what is accepted and what isn’t accepted. Apparently it is rude to put your hands in your pocket. There are little things like that which in Australia, wouldn’t be a problem at all, but here, it is considered extremely rude. I hope I don’t offend anyone!

Even catching the bus here is a full-on thing. The buses are so busy. I was jammed in like a sardine! I have to catch a bus and a train to work and it takes me one hour. I am expected to be here at 8:00am so I have to leave home at 6:57am. In Peterborough, I left school at 8:29am and got to school at 8:30am! What a change! I hate getting up early!

Next week I have to plan a lesson for sixteen classes (it will be the same lesson repeated sixteen times!). I have to introduce myself to the students and teach them something about Australia. I was thinking of borrowing a Crows scarf and Guernsey from one of the other Australian’s to show the kids and then I could teach them the Crows song. I might get some pictures of Aussie rules off the internet so they can see. I also might print out some pictures I took of Peterborough so they can get an idea of what it looks like. Hopefully they will be interested in that!

Everyone speaks so fast in Japanese and I have no idea what they are saying! Even if they spoke slowly, I would still have no idea! Not to worry, I think that I will soon get accustomed to all these differences and hopefully I will learn a think or two on the way.

The opening ceremony on the first day of the term was such an eye-opener! When I went into the gym, I saw nine-hundred students in perfect lines with perfect uniforms and perfect hair. They looked like soldiers! It was amazing. I wanted to take a picture, but I didn’t think that would be appropriate! I said my speech and I was so nervous. I think I said it OK, I hope they understood it. After I said my speech, I didn’t know where to go and I started to walk off the stage and the principal stopped me. Then a young girl walked on the stage and said a welcome speech to me in perfect English. I was very impressed.

The kids were one hundred percent well-behaved. They were all sitting with their legs crossed, bowing to their teachers, singing the songs, standing up straight and never stepped a foot out of line. It was just amazing!

Wednesday 3rd January 2007

We packed up from the guest house today and Hideo and Hisako took us to the West Mountain of Wakayama and showed us this beautiful look out of the ocean.

Later in the afternoon, Hideo took us to Osaka where we met the rest of the teachers from the Himeji group. The traffic was so busy and it took us four hours to get there when it really should have taken thirty minutes! It was the end of the holiday period and everyone was travelling back to their homes which was why it was so busy.

We met up with Chris, Jodie, Jono and Bill and caught a train to South Osaka to find a bite to eat. We took them to the very first restaurant we went to when we first arrived in Japan. We showed them the shrine in Osaka with the moss-covered statue. It was getting late and we were all a bit weary, so we caught a train back to the hotel. However, much to our dismay, on the final stop, we found out that we had caught the wrong train and had travelled several kilometres in the wrong direction! To make matters worse, that train was the last train for the night, so we found two taxis and about thirty to forty minutes later, we found ourselves back at the hotel (thank goodness!). Mind you, the taxi cost sixty dollars which was a high price for an honest mistake! I’m sure that will not be the last time I catch the wrong train known my hopeless sense of direction!!!

Tuesday 2nd January 2007

Hideo took us for a drive to Shirahama today. Shirahama is a huge tourist destination and it looks a little like Noosa Heads. It took ages to get there and we had to drive along really windy roads. When we got there, Hideo showed us a popular suicide point. Many people in Japan tend to commit suicide due to work pressures, school pressures and financial pressures. The percentage of suicides per year is much higher in Japan than in any other country.

The cliff in Shirahama that faces the sea below is about a one hundred metre drop with a really rocky bottom so people would probably die on impact. There is actually a sign in this section that says “don’t jump” in Japanese and has the number of the suicide hotline. Thousands of people jump off this cliff, but it is unknown of the exact number as many lives that are lost go unnoticed. Aside from the tragic suicide factor, it is a really beautiful cliff and has a great view of the ocean.

We then went to this new restaurant that is a foot spa restaurant. All the tables are lined up in a row with really hot water underneath them and you take your shoes and socks off and put your feet in the water, whilst sipping drinks and eating noodles with chopsticks. The water is so hot that it warms your entire body. I was stripping off layers upon layers of clothes while my feet were in the water. When I took my feet out, they were all red from the heat!

After that, Hideo and his family took us to these pretty lights that sit on the sand of the beach. The sand on this beach in Shirahama was actually imported from the Gold Coast which was why it was so soft and nice!

We took a few photos of the lights and then on our way back to Wakayama, we stopped by a restaurant called Mos Burger which is a Japanese version of MacDonald’s. I had a rice burger with pork and ginger. It was really nice, but it was about as greasy as the MacDonald’s burgers are! All in all, it was a really fun day today!

Monday 1st January 2007

Hideo came to the guest house to pick us up around midday today. He took us back to his house which was about a two-minute drive from the guest house we were staying at. His house is so cool! He lives in a forest with bamboo trees and all these exotic plants surrounding him. He owns a whole mountain and he built his house on it. His house is made out of shipping containers – so bizarre! I have never heard of it before! He has the BEST view of the entire town from his house. He also has the cutest dog called Clifford who is a golden retriever.

Hideo took us to meet the owner of the guest house and she was so cute (kawai!). Her and her husband gave Steve a tie that was made out of Japanese silk. I couldn’t believe they gave us a present for staying at their house! It just goes to show how hospitable they are. We gave them the souvenirs we bought.

We went back to Hideo’s house for lunch and Hisako cooked us the BEST Japanese meal for New Years Day. It was delicious. We had raw salmon with soy sauce, noodles, tofu, bean curd, mushrooms (tall and thin) and it was so healthy and tasty! We stayed at Hideo’s house all day and then at night we went to the public bath. It was such a different experience. Tina, Hisako, Idie and I went to the ladies’ bath and Steve, Yujin and Hideo went to the men’s bath. We had to take all our clothes off and walk around totally naked going from one spa to another. It felt weird for me at the start because I have never taken my clothes off in front of so many people before and I always cover myself up in change rooms, and there I was, completely starkers, taking a bath, a spa, a sauna and a shower with 200 other nude women! I didn’t think it was appropriate to take a photo of that!

By the end of it, I quite enjoyed the liberated feeling of letting it all hang out! I wasn’t self-conscious or anything it the end because noone else cared – it is part of their lifestyle. I’m glad I got to experience it though and I will definitely be going to another one in the near future.

So far, looking back I have had such an eye-opener of an experience. Every day is something different, unusual and something I would never experience in my everyday life in Australia. It is also something I will never forget! I am so grateful for this experie3nce and I don’t think I will ever regret taking up this opportunity!

Sunday 31st December 2006

Today we got on our bikes and had breakfast at this place called ‘Mister Donut’. It was like ‘The Donut King’, but way better. The cakes were beautiful and so different to any cakes I have ever tried, It is a pretty popular franchise in Japan..

We did a bit of shopping in the mall and Steve and I bought a down jacket (really warm and trendy!), I bought a beanie and some ear muffs because it gets really cold riding a bike in five degrees Celsius and my ears were hurting from the wind. I also bought a small coin purse. It’s cool!

It was pretty much time to go after that because we had to catch a train to Osaka to meet up with Hideo.

When we got to Osaka, we met up with Hideo, Hisako (his wife), Idie (his daughter), Hiro (his friend). Hideo took us to this really cool restaurant where you can cook your own meat on a hot plate on the table. We tried cow tongue, cow stomach, raw beef and any meat off a cow. It was absolutely DELICIOUS!!! I am so glad we got to try it. It sounds gross, but you can’t knock something until you’ve tried it and I can honestly say that none of that cow went to waste!

After tea, Hideo took us to his friend’s bar which was also a tiny, tiny little pub, not much bigger than that jazz club. We got introduced to this American guy called Derek who has lived n Japan for three and a half years. His Japanese was so good and Steve, Tina and I were jealous. Ho could speak and understand everything!

We said a quiet ‘Happy New Year’ to each other and then Hideo drove us to Wakayama which is where he lives. We got dropped off at his friend’s guest house. She let us stay in this house for free for three nights! We thought that was pretty nice of her, so we bought her some souvenirs from Adelaide when we met her.

Saturday 30th December 2006

We had a slow start this morning. Tina and Steve took AGES to get ready and we didn’t leave the hotel until about 12. We took our bikes and rode to a mini-mart so Steve could get a snack. Then we rode to the Hijashihonganji Temple and were greeted by about 100 pigeons who weren’t afraid of people. They were flying onto people’s shoulders and everything!

We had to take our shoes off to get inside the shrine. When we got inside, we saw lots of people on their knees praying to the Buddha. We took a few photos.

We then rode to the Toji Temple. It was a pagoda that was five stories high and it is the largest and most famous temple in Japan. It was beautiful walking around the gardens and talking photos of the cool buildings. We saw some amazing statues which were called Vajrayanistic statues. There was so much detail in the statues, but we weren’t allowed to take any photos of them unfortunately.

After seeing the Toji Temple, we rode to the west side of Kyoto in search of another temple that is supposedly magnificent. We didn’t end up finding it, but we did see this awesome enormous park full of small temples and beautiful gardens. We rode past this kindergarten that was amongst a beautiful forest in the most scenic surroundings. We came to a bike trail, but it was getting dark and we didn’t have time to ride on it. I can’t wait to go back and explore it though!

For tea, we went to the Asian Kitchen where we ate Thai noodles, chicken, rice and nan bread. After tea Hideo told us to go to this jazz club called ‘Bass On Top’ because his friend owned it and he told his friend that we would go. It took us ages to find it and when we finally did, we walked into this small room that was not much bigger than the size of a laundry! I was expecting to walk into a huge room with hundreds of people sitting at tables and I was horribly wrong. There was a bar the size of a 6-person table and a small couch that fit five people on it and that was it! We felt like aliens when we walked in there because we stood out as we were the only Westerners there. Then this lady was asking me what I wanted to drink and they didn’t have any drinks I knew, so I got my little phrase book out and said in Japanese “please decide for me.” Then this girl next to me knew a bit of English and ordered a bourbon and coke for Tina and I. She was really nice. Her name was Mariko.

We were uncomfortably sipping our drinks when the Japanese man next to Mariko (which we later found out was her dad) started asking us questions. When we answered them, he kept on saying ‘only speak in Japanese’. Well that was pretty much impossible seeming as we didn’t know any Japanese and we thought he was being a bit rude. Anyway, we didn’t stay for another drink because we felt a little uncomfortable (although the music was awesome and there were two really good female singers we listened to). When we left, Steve paid for the bill and it came to 90 000 Yen which is around $90! We couldn’t believe it because we had only bought three drinks. Steve went back and asked the man why it was so expensive and was told that in Gion (a suburb of Kyoto), the rent is so high that they have huge cover charges and over priced drinks just to cover the rent. Well that is the first and last time I will be going to any club in Gion! I am always going to ask what the cover charge is before entering any club!

Friday 29th December 2006

Yesterday, we went shopping and I ended up buying those $300 boots I was talking about. I know they are expensive, but they were real leather and why shouldn’t I have something nice? I also bought these cool sketchers boots and I’m gonna wear them today! For breakfast, we had these gross, dry pancakes and the most delicious hot chocolate in the universe – I guess you take the good with the bad! Then we went to the Apple shop and I bought my ipod. Now I just have to install my songs.

After we went shopping, it took us ages to work out which train to catch to get the Osaka Castle Park. Well we finally got there and it was so beautiful. We took heaps of awesome photos. On my photo library, you would think I was a professional photographer with all the five star photos I took!

Then we caught the train to Kyoto. The train station looked so cool. We later found out that the man who designed it was Hideo’s friend! He has friends in high places all over the world.

We caught a taxi to our hotel, dumped our stuff and then went and found a cute little Italian restaurant for tea. Steve ordered a creamy pasta dish that was pretty average and Tina and I shared a pizza – it was OK.

Then we went back to our hotel and had a long, long sleep! This morning we woke up to see snow out the window. Tiny, light little flakes of snow. It looks beautiful. Today, we are going to hopefully go on a tour, but who knows what the day holds for us.

Later…I had the best day ever so far! We started the day by walking around, but it was snowing so much and was really difficult to get around, not to mention being very cold. Steve’s feet were really hurting him because his shoes were giving him huge blisters and he couldn’t walk very far. We stopped for lunch in this cute American cafĂ© and I had this really nice toasted sandwich and Steve had bacon and eggs. Then we decided to hire some bikes for the day and we rode to the Kyoto Imperial Palace. It was a huge garden full of beautiful, tall trees and lots of shrines and temples. The buildings are magnificent. I took so many cool photos, although it is impossible to take a bad photo in such a beautiful place – you just have to point and shoot. I loved riding a bike and looking at the scenery. It was beautiful.

We got to this place called the Shokokuji Temple. We wanted to go inside and as we were looking from the outside, a monk said we could go in and have a look at the garden. We took heaps of photos of the garden – it was beautiful. Then I knocked on the door and asked the monk if we could have a look inside. He said we couldn’t go inside, but he opened a door to here a worshipping room was and he let us take a photo of it. It looked so cool.

Then we rode to this street that was quite busy with lots of people and all sorts of different restaurants. That is where we will go for tea tonight.

Wednesday 27th December 2006 (later on that night)

Today was fun! When we walked out of the hotel room, there were all these girls dolled up in their short skirts, long jackets, long boots and big hair and all these guys dressed in suits. I thought it looked like they had gone out the night before, slept in their clothes and wore them the next day, but I soon realised that almost EVERYONE was dressed like that. They are so out there with their dress sense and it really fascinated me because I could never wear what they wear.

We went shopping and I bought this Nike jacket and the girl that served me could speak in English. She was really nice. We shopped for the entire day and Tina and I discovered that we don’t fit into any of their shoes or jackets. We were so disappointed. The only shoes I fit into were some $300 boots and they were really nice. I am almost tempted to just buy them tomorrow. I am getting an ipod tomorrow from the Apple shop.

The highlight of my day was when we went to see this temple down a little, unimportant side street amongst the hustle and bustle of Osaka. Japanese people say a prayer and then pour some water onto a statue covered in moss. I don’t really understand the meaning behind it, but it was very interesting to watch. I later found out that this temple was one of the most famous temples in Osaka. While we were taking photos, this Japanese man came up to us and introduced himself and asked us about Australia. He was so fascinated by us and he said Tina and I were beautiful and Steve was handsome! Then he gave Tina and I a present of a ‘Hello Kitty’ key ring. We were so shocked and surprised he just had presents for us in his back pocket! We took a photo with him and he and his friend gave us their details and told us to email the photo to him and he wanted us to call him. He was so nice and we felt so good after talking to him. It was the highlight of my day!

Wednesday 27th December 2006

This is my second day is Japan. The first day I spend all day on a plane squished up in a tiny space for about eight and a half hours. When we got on the plane, I started reading my Japanese phrase book and I spoke my first Japanese phrase to the flight attendant: “toy-re-wa-dokko-des-ka?” (Where is the toilet?) She was so impressed that I spoke in Japanese and I was chuffed! Then she spoke in Japanese to me for the rest of the flight and I had no idea what she was saying so I just nodded and smiled most of the time!

We got off the plane at the Kansai airport and met up with Yujin and his father (Hideo). We sent most of our luggage to the apartment we will be staying in and then we drove to our hotel in Osaka (Metro The 21 Hotel), which was right in the heart of the nightlife in Osaka. The girls were all so pretty and trendy – dressed to the nines in their beautiful formal dresses (in the freezing cold, mind you!). The Japanese men looked nice too dressed in suits (well, some of them did!).

Hideo took us to this awesome Japanese restaurant. We had to take our shoes off, sit on cushions and eat with chopsticks! Our first meal was DELICIOUS! I had pork cutlets, Tina had curry noodles and Steve had this mushy egg thing that was really nice. Initially, I was scared about meeting Yujin’s dad because Yujin said he was really serious, but he was so nice and talkative and hospitable to us that there was nothing not to like!

The streets in Osaka are awesome. People leave their bikes unchained on the side of the road, there are neon lights everywhere, and people walk on narrow streets where the cars have to dodge pedestrians and bike riders. It is a whole other world over here!