Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Funeral Blues

I've just come back from a funeral in Kuroishi. One of my JTEs' wife died suddenly at the weekend from what I can only gather was an aneurism. I don't think she had any previous complaint so it must have come as an almighty shock for him and his family. The funeral was very interesting. Three monks came in chanting and burnt josticks in front of a huge bouquet of flowers (about 8m wide x 4m tall.) There were lots of those decorative gift displays that consist of say forty cans of beer and a few tins of fruit. Everybody wore black, literally everybody. That is, apart from me. I felt a bit of a plum walking in with a grey suit and a dark red tie, but, nonetheless, I think my JTE will appreciate the fact that I turned up. Everybody made an offering of money and handed it in at the beginning, the sum of which will probably only count for the cost of the ceremony, and after the monks had finished their initial chant, people came to the front from their seats to burn incense. My JTE stood in front of everybody and made a speech. He did really well not to break down halfway through if you consider the circumstances, though towards the end he did start to stall a little, which prompted lots of sobbing from the crowd. Poor bugger. I really do feel sorry for the guy.

Apart from that I've been taking it fairly easy: Monday, three classes. Today, another three. Tomorrow, perhaps two, I'll have to see what the senseis have got planned. For those of you who are interested, this is a picture of what I see half the time I'm at home.

Monday, June 28, 2004

Brassband and Sushi

On Sunday Aki and I went to the Hirosaki high school annual brass band concert. It was pretty cool, and, like last year, I was shocked at how good the band sound. I often hear them practising when I'm doing English club, but it's usually just them tuning up, which tends to sound awful. They also did some wierd acting as well, along the lines of 'Japan and the World'. Now there's a familiar theme.

This was the 'Japan' act. The 'Britain' act was also a dark stage with fluorescent abstract pictures of the four Beatles being waved from side to side. It's perhaps a bit disappointing that when Japanese people think of British music they still think of the Beatles. But then the 'America' act came on and they played Amazing Grace, so I suppose the Beatles are still quite contemporary in comparison. I suppose also that their limits were restricted to music that sounds good in brass. Here's a picture of the world famous Shiminkaikan where they were doing their stuff.

Anyway, after the concert we went to Seijiro which is probably the most popular kaiten-sushi restaurant in Hirosaki, or at least it seemed that way as we had to wait about half an hour to get seated. It was pure torture watching all that sushi roll round on the conveyor-belt and not being able to eat any. But they had corn back on the menu last night which put a smile on Aki's face.

I made a bit of a pig of myself last night, but not to worry because it's all good, wholesome tucker. And what the heck, I climbed Iwaki on Saturday so I deserved it. Some more shots:


Saturday, June 26, 2004

Misty Mountain Top

Once more, I scrambled to the top of Iwaki-san today. It wasn't such a beautiful view from the top:

Pretty murky don't you think? On the way down I slipped and hurt my back. Nothing serious, but it hurt quite a bit and I've got a bruise just above my bum now. If I do the mountain again next weekend I'm going to buy crampons for the snow. They look really useful, and fairly easy to strap to your boots. I must have looked a real ponce today, gingerly creeping down the snowpack with just my hiking boots.

Iwakiyama shrine

Notice the bottle of sake sat there looking lonely? Apparently they put offerings down in front of the shrine for gaijin to slip into their bags when the holy spirits aren't looking. Gotta love the Japanese!

Friday, June 25, 2004

Enkai and Sports Day

Last night there was an English department enkai (party) at this really, really, really Japanese restaurant called Hirano Kappo. It was very old fashioned and the building itself consisted of about three or four rooms linked together by rickety old corridors, situated around a pond with a frog that started croaking at around 7.30.

You really wouldn't believe what I ate last night. Take the cod sperm; all the nasty fishy things that you've seen people eat in this country; the horsemeat; the natto; the stuff that looks like ossified fat on a stick - none of it comes close to how disgusting this thing I ate last night looked, and felt in my mouth. First I had to pluck it out of it's shell, which still had algi stuck to it and looked like it had just been dragged from the ocean, and when it actually gave way it landed on my plate looking like a cross between a moldy turd and one of those internal tumors that you used to find in the back of science books at school. It was a rotting green colour, and it kind of resembled a very slimy octopus leg. Of course, I snapped it up in no time, only because our new Kocho sensei sat there with a look of expectation on his face, a man on the point of judging whether or not I was a decent, worthy guy who deserved an easy summer vacation, or a pussy who needed to come in every day throughout the summer break and sit at my desk for eight hours.

I didn't get a picture of the thing itself, but kocho sensei got one. I might ask him to email it to me.

Today was school sports day, so I took it easy. Just sat around watching kids do their sports. I had a quick kip at lunchtime and read a couple of pages of my new Murakami book. The main attraction today was the 'long rope' contest. This involves a bunch of students getting together in a line and jumping a rope, a bit like skipping.

It provided all the students with a lot of fun, even if it is just group skipping. Here's another shot of a first year student who'd just one his game of ping pong. He stamped his foot really hard every time he served, which seemed to be what all the winners were doing. Perhaps it's a confidence thing.

Monday, June 21, 2004

The First Real Hot one

I don't know about anyone else, but for me today marked the start of the sweaty season. For the next three months we here in Japan are going to have to put up with high temperatures accompanied by 100% humidity. I actually get a bit of a kick from it when I'm at home relaxing, wearing shorts and nothing else, but when I've got to sit in an office wearing courdroys and a shirt it's just too much.

Also today, I witnessed one of the funniest things ever. One of the teachers here at the first year desk complex has a cough that seems to come on every summer. It seems to be a result of the humidity, but then again I wouldn't know cos I'm not a doctor. Anyway, she has had the same cough for the last three summers and it is very noticable. So she was coughing away this morning and, as if in sympathy, the woman sitting next to her started producing this really, really fake and pathetic cough that was more of an embarrasment than anything else. It was as if the woman sat next to her didn't want her to feel left out because of her poor health or something like that. Anyway, I had to leave the room and releive myself of the urge to laugh. I know it was bad of me because the woman with the cough is suffering, but come on!! If it happens again I'm going to break wind really loudly, turn to the women and explain in a sincere tone of empathy, that a dreadful medical condition has left me with a chronic lack of control over my bowels. Then we can all bond together knowing that we are all afflicted with medical conditions in one form or another.

Maybe not. Oh well, I'm going to the tatami room for a quick snooze now. Laters.

Saturday, June 19, 2004

Bring on the Towada Wine.

This weekend kicked off last night with a debauched drinking session in the Shirakami mountains. Erica had the good idea of renting a cottage near the local Anmon Falls, and about eleven people turned up to spend a weekend in the beautiful local surroundings. I went with Aki, and I didn't intend on staying the night because I thought that the sleeping spaces in the cottage had been fully taken by other weekend revellers. But when we got there it turned out that two people had decided not to turn up, so Aki and I stayed over and got drunk with the infamous Gav Locke and a host of other 'usual suspects'.

For footage of the Indian Poker drinking game that we played, you should go to either Hugh's or Jamie's webite listed below in the links section, because I had decided to tuck my camera away somewhere safe before things got too nasty. Basically, the Indian Poker game made mincemeat of the bottle that Aki is modelling in this shot below. It was her birthday present from the other folks there.

Yeah, the whole bottle got nailed. Then Gav started shouting, in a broad, drunken Aussie accent, "F**king bring on that f**king bottle of Towada f**king Wine" referring to a bottle of locally produced wine that was sat on the table outside. We avoided the wine, but Jamie brought in his stash of Guinness so we could take the drinking game to it's logical conclusion, which was Gav and Aki throwing up off the verander and into the toilet, respectively.

Here're another couple of piccies from the night...

... and this handsome young thing...

Tonight will be much quieter, with a bit of sushi on the cards, and maybe a video from the shop down the road. Aki and I woke up feeling a little bit worse for wear and decided to come home.

Sunday, June 13, 2004

on the mountain again

Yep, I went and climbed Iwaki san again on Saturday. The climb up was much the same as last week; a hard slog on the first half, and a slow shimmy up the snowpack above the treeline. The snowpack was a bit scarier this time than last. It seemed to be wearing thin in places, with large cavities underneath that I was aware of only because I could hear rushing water below my feet. It still stands at about 5 or 6 metres in some places though. Anyway, at the top the clouds were great and I took some photos.

The clouds were great because there were both the whispy sort that fly across the top of the mountain really quickly and make you feel a bit like you're flying, and there were a few bigger cumulus clouds drifting by slowly. Also there were the smaller cumulus clouds like the ones you can see in the picture above. And to top that off I spotted this one when I was climbing back down.

And here are some other piccys that might be of interest


Also, on Friday night a load of us went out to the beer garden again. I got a bit plastered and ended up singing kareoke. A tribute to the late Ray Charles - Baby what'd I say? The story of my life. I also went to Thom's place last night for some chicken pasta and drinks. I met some interesting Japanese people (one guy in particular who climbed a mountain in China that hadn't been summited before.) And today, it seems that there is nothing but sunshine outside.

Thursday, June 10, 2004

The Nutters

Here's a photo of where I work. I sit at the far end on the left, and that's my supervisor opposite reading a book. To my right is Saito sensei. He's got to be the biggest raver of them all. And then there's the crazy Ose sensei in the middle who sometimes breaks out his Mickey Mouse embroidered waist coat to brighten up the office atmosphere.

Seriously, these guys are quite a good bunch, and so are the other teachers who sit at the first-year desk complex. I put this photo up because I want to show folks where I spend most of my time during the day. I certainly spend more time sat here than I do in class anyway.

This week has been fairly smooth. I managed to get two really early nights on the trot, Monday and Tuesday. I needed them as well, even if I did wake up at five the following day. I've also been cooking my evening meals on the bbq outside. I now have quite a good little set up on my verander, with room enough for a chair and cooking utensils. OK, so my verander overlooks the ghetto, I know. It's still a nice place to sit and read and grill fish.

I've got a trip to Owani high school today, and tomorrow I have a meeting in Aomori city in preparation for the summer seminar that I'm involved in this year, so I won't be back in the office until next Monday now. Even then I won't have anything to do because all the students are taking their mid-term exams next week. I'll study Japanese I suppose. Or pick my nose. One or the other.

Monday, June 07, 2004

Friday Night, Saturday Morning.

Well, this last weekend was another just like the many that have gone before. Drinking on Friday night and mountain climbing the day after. It's a hard life for some, I can tell you. Went to a beer garden on the roof of a hotel on Friday night. I didn't stay out too late because I had plans to climb the mountain the following day. The others went on to Shirokiya at about 9 o'clock though, for a second round of all you can drink madness. It must have been messy, what with all that beer flying around and all that kareoke being sung.
Here's a piccy from the beer garden.

So, the following day I woke up and funnily enough I didn't feel like climbing the mountian one little bit. I treated myself to breakfast at the greatest combini (Japanese convenience store) in all of Tsugaru, Orange Heart on the road to Owani, where you can get freshly made onigiri and creamy crepe and all sorts of goodies that you don't find at other combinis. After that I came to realise that there was little else going on that day, so I decided to do the mountain anyway. It was actually a good idea to go up a little later in the day because when I got to the top I was on my own. It took me about five hours in all, and on the way down I accidentally slipped on the ice and slid about 200 metres on my bum. It wasn't all that dangerous, though I did take a layer of skin off my hands trying to stop.
Here's a piccy that I took when I was at the top.

Friday, June 04, 2004

Random Onsen Trip

Yesterday I went on a random bike ride to Romantopia, which is a little day park just outside Hirosaki city. I finished work and had three hours to kill so I picked up my stuff and shot off. There is a very big hill to climb on the way so I got a good bit of exercise in too. I should also mention that the weather this week has been 100% A-OK; barely a cloud in the sky all week. So I had an onsen and on the way back I noticed that the sun was shining from the backside of the mountain, offering a really nice view and photo opportunity:

Today has also been a very beautiful day, and most of it was spent at the local sports ground watching the opening ceremony of the annual Aomori-ken inter-high school sports tournament. I got a little sun-burned but it doesn't hurt.