Monday, March 28, 2005

A weekend of blue umbrellas and pink waterpumps.

Not really, but that's all I managed to photograph this weekend. Besides umbrellas and waterpumps, though, there is little worth mentioning about this last weekend. But, naturally, I will mention a few things.

First, I went to a farewell enkai (party) for the teachers who are leaving this year. My enkais are seldom of any interest to me, so I see no reason at all in subjecting any reader of this weblog to the details. I actually didn't drink at the party because I knew I'd be going out to a local sports bar later that night to watch the Japan-Iran game with some of the lads I play football with, and I didn't want to get too hammered, which is exactly what would have happened if I'd started drinking Kirin lager at six. Japan lost their World Cup qualifying game against Iran, which I was genuinely gutted about. Not because I wanted them to win, but because the guys at the bar had high hopes, and I hate to see people end high-spirited nights on a downer. Japan did score once though, and when that happened I managed to get both of my arms drenched in Kirin lager. It was just like being back home.

I had a nice surprise on saturday though. It had snowed quite heavily the night before, leaving a good layer of surprisingly dry powder on the mountain. I went up with Erica and met other folks up there as well; stayed the whole day at Ajigasawa. Can you believe it? Dry snow at this time of year.

I spent saturday night speaking Japanese with this guy Erica knows. Erica needed someone to be her English speaking company at a dinner she'd been invited to, and since her first choice had fallen ill, I ended up filling in. It was a good feed though. This guy's missus layed on Piaella, cheesecake, apple pie, fine wine, strawberries, you name it. The guy was a local mountain expert and I think he was impressed by my climbing Iwaki so many times last year. Either that or he picked up on my being a loner who gets on better with trees than human beings.

So, where did all the photos of pumps and umbrellas come from? They actually came the next day after my little afternoon snowshoe hike through Kudoji hills. I nearly got lost again, but overall I had a great time hawking the tracks of mountain deer and moseying around in the forests of beech trees. It's surprisingly quiet at Kudoji, and I'm sure I'll become a regular there this year.

これから、少し日本語を書いてみます。さっきの英文は私にとって訳しにくいのでちゃんと翻訳できません。今週末は大体いつも通りでした。今、職員室で みな 新しい学期のために準備して 机を引っ越しているんだから集中できない。だから、仕事の代わりに外で写真を撮りに出かけます。じゃあね。

Friday, March 25, 2005

Is this English?

Another exhilarating class with Aomori ken's future intellectual elite.

Ever get the feeling you need to change lesson plans?

A bit of technology watch

I found this interesting article in the Guardian today. No comment personally, but I find quite interesting the prospect of companies like Canon, Olympus and Nikon having to produce phones just to stay in business.

今日の ガーヂアンではこの興味のある記事を見つけた。私は意見がないけど、キヤノン、オリンパス、ニコンなどの会社は業界で生き残るのにケイタイ電話を生産しなければ行けないなら、それはおもしろいと思います。

Thursday, March 24, 2005


今日はまた仕事が全然ないから一日中 暇しか何もないです。大抵、こういう暇で 日本語を勉強するのが好きなのに 段々詰まらなくなってるね。今日、ブロッグにアップロードする写真でもない。仕事がないことの他には 今夜 日本語クラブに行く予定なので、 今その為に予習しておいています。その上に 今週末 八甲田での最後のスキーに行くので それを楽しみしている。じゃあ、僕の日本語で間違いを見つけたら、ぜひ教えて下さい。今度 エントリーを書く時、 もっと内容のある文章を書いてみる。


Translation (I think):

Today I have no work at all to do so I have nothing but free time all day long. Usually, with such free time I like to study Japanese, though that eventually gets boring after a while. I don't even have any photos to upload onto my blog today.
Apart from there not being any work for me to do, I do plan to go to Japanese class tonight so I'm now putting together a lesson plan for that. As well as that, I'm looking forward to going to Hakkoda snowboarding for the last time this season. Right, so if you find any mistakes in my Japanese please let me know. Next time I write an entry I'll try and give what I write a bit more meaning.


Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Didn't just do nothing this weeknend

The temptation was there, but I didn't bite. This weekend I could quite easily have stayed in my apartment and sat around doing jack, but I managed otherwise. Like I already pointed out, this weekend I snowshoed. Yesterday I went to a very small mountain called kudoji, the kanji for which I can't seem to find on my computer. I snowshoed with a couple of local gals, and at the top I drank snow mixed with coffee, sponsored by Naoko. (Doesn't Erica look like a mack-daddy with those shades on.)

This is my friend Naoko from Nihongo club. She's not a midget. She just looks really small stood next to gaijin. Also, the snow makes me look about a foot taller than usual.

Kudoji was snow-shoe paradise yesterday. The snow condition was wet, but the day itself and the 'mountain' were fandabby dozey. It's not what I'd call a mountain, but it was a good bit of high forest to say the least.

Snuck in a quick one from the trail (Iwaki).

On a very unrelated note, after a long night's drinking last night, slipping into the dirty and unsuspecting pleasures of youth, and desiring grey skies and cold winds to keep me awake, I have decided to start birdwatching again when I finally return back to England. I miss my birds. And although I get quite the opportunity to look at birds when I'm in the sticks or on the mountain, I never have that birdwatching experience like I used to have back home as a young lad. Walking around some wildlife reserve with my old boy, or some other friend, dressed in a rain mack with binoculars hanging round my neck. As always in England, never too far away from farmers' fields or villages, and always on the lookout for foreign vagrants blown in by the wind. I miss those days. Mad as it seems, I also miss the company I used to keep while birding. The twitchers weren't a bad bunch.

When I was into twitching (obsessive birdwatching) I also used to play host to a number of nervous twitches. I used to pull wierd faces and play funny games with my hands; not uncontrolably, but out of some kind of impulse. I've never been able to describe it. Thus I used to feel uncomfortable with the term used to describe my other, more legitimate obsession (amateur ornithology). I still have the nervous twitches, less visible immediately, perhaps, but they are still there. However, I gave up birdwatching a long time ago. It must have been peer group pressure.

I think I've already mentioned this on my blog, but just for the record, this is the one bird I'd love to see while in Japan.

Steller's Sea Eagle

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Brown fields of snow

Now that spring has officially kicked in, the snow is starting to turn brown. The snow in town, at least. Evidence of this can be found, among other places, at the Iwaki River snow dump. This one of the many places around Hirosaki city where people have been off-loading their little white truck loads of snow. There are a few of these places, each at least the size of one or two football pitches, dotted along Iwaki river.

Not much to see here apart from brown snow, so on to the mountain.

I'd snowshoed up with my board strapped to my back the day before with Francois, Melanie and Eric, so today I decided to stick to the foot of the mountain and work my way through the forests and apple trees.

Looking up through the trees, hoping that the bears were still asleep.

I forgot my camera when we went up skiing on saturday, but if you check out Francois' website sometime next week he should have all his photos uploaded pretty soon.

Friday, March 18, 2005

The waiting game

And only the equivalent of a football match to go before the restaurant opens. When it does, this vicious boredom will be broken, temporarily. Actually I just had a class with one of the elders, and while we were walking back to the staff room she asked me how I thought the lesson material went down with the kids. I tried to be Japanese and said the following:

"Well, you know, you've got a lot of food in the world, and it's like, there's this big variety to choose from, yeah, and what we just did in that class room, right, if you think of it as a kind of food, right, was very English."

"Oh yes, English class is ok?"

"It was ok, but I think the kids wanted Chinese food instead"

"For lunch?"

She got the analogy in the end though, and she greatly appreciated my whit, I might add. I explained that in England we often fall asleep while eating our meals because they are so boring. And she took me seriously, of course, so I told her I was just joking. But I was honest with her, and told her that she should add some more spice to the material, while at the same time I thought I was thoroughly Japanese in what I said.

When the teacher starts falling asleep during class you know the lesson plan needs reviewing.

The above photo of Iwaki yama is one of my favourites, chosen for it's magnificent representation of our spangly new school restaurant in the foreground. Two of my favourite local landmarks.

Marc going all out for Paddy's day yesterday.

There is something I'd like to know: are Irish people offended by the word Paddy? Angela, if you read this please let me know. While we're on the subject, does it piss the Scottish off if you call them skirt-wearing baboons? I'm so out of touch with all this fangle PC language.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

What people will do to get in the news...

Niiiice article about a guy who ate his mate's brain, only after cooking it in butter mind you. Now he reckons he wants a nose.

Beyond Evangelism

Now I've nothing against evangelism because I feel that, in a way, we are all evangelicals in our own right; espousing what we believe to be the truth, in be it a logical, spiritual or emotional sense. But I do have issues with this little number in the Christian Science Monitor today. (I should just note that the Christain Science Monitor is a very liberal and secular print, or at least the online version is, and that this article in no way reflects the general tone of it's journalism.)

For those too lazy to read the article, it looks at quasi-theocratic political movements in America that call for the country to be governed by representatives of God. They call for a return of American society back to it's theological origins. I know, they already have these kind of political movements in power throughout the Middle East and they make far from ideal governments.

I for one just can't see how a good healthy democracy could be anything but secular. And I mean seethingly secular. Democracy is nothing without a diverse and pluralistic society underneath it. And that social diversity is, theoretically, supposed to provide those democratic institutions with some sort of job to do. Without a pluralistic society to give it meaning, democracy is nothing but a set of formal institutions that grind, chug and crackle without any real purpose. I can just see how it'd go down in a Comparative Politics class:

"Well, you see, it's a democracy governed by God. There's one way of doing things, guidelines to which can be found in this book here, and everbody votes for the same guy ever four years".

- While religions have there good points, they are indeed absolutist (the Christain God is a very jealous God), and they cannot, certainly should not, be in control of politics. That's pluralism, and pluralism is the life-blood of democracy.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Farewell to a memorable season

I was back at Hakkoda again with old Hughston on Sunday for what was probably the last epic powder day of the season. For me, at least. A cracking day it was; the result of a freak low pressure system that blew in from the continent. But looking back over the season in full, there have been many the same. This last season has to have been the greatest of the three that I've spent here in Japan. We've had the highest recorded snowfalls in twenty years and Hakkoda mountain has been consistently reliable for powder snow. Though sometimes accompanying nasty weather, you've got to take the rough wind up top if you want the smooth powder down below.

The only day I can remember at Hakkoda when the snow wasn't in excellent quality was the weekend of the AJET ski trip, but even then everybody had a laugh building ramps below the gondola, doing jumps, trying to pull 180s, 360s etc. Even around Christmas time, when the snow started hitting really hard, there seemed to be a foot of fresh up there everyday.

Ah, them were the days. And now all we've got to do is wait for it to happen again next year.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

It's been decided

Balls to post-JET decision making trauma. Thanks to the French we can all lead meaningful lives from next August. Vive la France!!

These are my new glasses. And I promise that this is the very last photo of me you'll see on here for a long time.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Shots in the cold wind

Last night I braved the cold wind and the snow and I strutted up to the pachinko district on the 102 in Hirosaki. I gave it a new name along the way actually; inspiration brought about largely by talking to myself. Come to think of it, that's how most of my inspiration is generated - through talking to myself. Anyway, I now call it the 'Horrendous waste of electric on the 102'.

Walking along I tried to constitute an argument against pachinko in terms, not of cultural decay, but of environmental monstrosity. All that electric for what? Some interesting photos maybe?

Sometimes, and this isn't just in Japan, I feel people cling to their wasteful habits and customs just to savour or invoke the feeling of being filthy rich, like they were back in the 80s. It is a common impression in Japan, but also in other nations where arrogance is rife, Britain included.

What I just wrote above might have been brought on by a discussion I had with Bigboy sensei this morning. The things he said to me about the Chinese and the Koreans got a little bit too childish earlier today, and it left me with a bad tone in my ears. After that I made the mistake of reading excerpts from Motoori Norinaga and Hirata Atsutane, two Edo period scholars who were outright racists, especially in their opinions of the Chinese. All this led to an outburst of wishing that Japanese people would just grow up and see further than their noses.

I really thought I'd be suffering from a cold today because last night's snow was wet, and it dampened my clothes as I walked. I felt cold, and this morning when I awoke I could feel that symptomatic snitch in the back of my throat. Anyhow, as the day has progressed that snitch has disappeared and I feel fine now.

This is what I really like about Aomori ken. 'Do Not Dump Your Snow Here!' Now there's an idea. Surely there must be a way to harness energy from the colossal snowfalls in this region. I might just spend the rest of my life figuring out how.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Broken Glasses

I sat on my glasses the other day and broke one of the lenses so I'm about to receive my third new set of glasses since arriving in Japan. I went to pick them up yesterday actually, but when I tried them on they were far too strong for me. I did have a bad feeling after the eye test they gave me, like I'd completely misunderstood the instructions. Oh well, I'm going back into the opticians today with what I have left of these pathetic looking things. They want to check the strength of my old lenses so as to determine the strength of the new ones. However, in the meantime I have to wear the broken ones in the office because I spend so much time staring at computer screens that my eyes would really hurt if I didn't wear them. I just hate walking around looking like someone just punched me in the face.

Yeah, I know. Kawaisou...

Monday, March 07, 2005

Won't bore you with the details...

...of my school's graduation ceremony on Saturday because the subject has already been covered by other JETs and they really are all the same. Here's a little photo snap of some happy 18 year old lads though.

Sunday was a good one. Got up early that day and headed out to Iwaki mountain. This is what it looked like on the way.

As you can imagine, when I saw the mountain looking like that I got all excited and sped off in a hurry. I went to Ajigasawa ski resort first for some turns through the trees, but in the afternoon I got down to some serious stuff. I went up to my old haunt at Ooishi shrine. I took my board and snowshoes, and the necessary contraption to strap the equipment to my back. I embarked and I struggled, but I got the spoils before the end of the day. I managed to get up on the first ridge after about half an hour. From the ridge I took these two numbers.

Looking upward towards Akakuradake. Licking my lips at the thought of drawing a sleek line coming down. And it was good. I made it up to about 700 metres and started getting, well, a bit too sweaty actually. I think my legs could have taken me up to about 1000m, but I just had to dry out a bit before I started waking the bears with my stench. The line down was better than expected, even though the snow was shaky towards the bottom. The stuff further up is still in good shape though, and I'm hoping it'll stay that way until next weekend when I plan to take on the full 1400m of Akakuradake.

Looking over to the other ridge.

This is Akakura shrine, snowed up to it's second storey windows. It's fun to tramp up and sit on the roof of this place.

This is one of the buildings that didn't handle the winter so well this year. The roof has completely caved in.

Snow banks that will probably take until May to melt. I'm kind of looking forward to the springtime now though. I could do with some sunny days and some decent pavement to walk on.

Oh, I can be such a dick sometimes.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Egret in the river

So I went out for lunch today, and along the way I came across one of these little badboys:

It's an egret. At one time I could have told you precisely which species of egret it is, but my ornithological days are well in the past now. I did see it gulp down a little fish. Probably a frozen one, mind you. On a day like today, -2 degrees that is, the river is the last place I'd want to hang out, but the egret seemed to enjoy himself in there.

He was keeping a keen eye on me. It's funny, you know, birds always know when you're pointing something at them. Be it a gun or a camera, they won't take their eyes off of you until you're long in the distance.

Shocking News

I saw this young girl shovelling snow at the cross roads on the main street the other day. You can't quite see them from this angle, but she had on huge stilettos which looked out of place with the huge shovel in her hands and the huge snow pile she was working on.

The shocking news is that the school restaurant is closed today, leaving me with no other option than to go out and eat at some second rate junk-food peddling caff in town. I really don't like it when I can't get my bento, especially since I've brought my own chopsticks and noritama today. Noritama is rice-topping (little bits of dried seaweed and dried egg), which gives plain rice a bit more snap. I usually go heavy on the tsukemono (pickled vegetables) for a taste with my rice, but I've noticed people looking at me funny when I put so much on. I get the feeling the teachers at school think my tsukemono habit is a bit childish. And I've stood my ground until now, eating what I want to eat and not what they think I should be eating, but yesterday I cracked when they all gathered around in a circle laughing at me.

This old girl reminded me of a detective. She didn't detect me taking this sneaky little shot though!

This week I have nothing to do. I literally have nothing to do at school, along with all the other teachers, because of the end of term exams etc. I've been in the room behind the library quite a bit this week because it's the quietest place I can find and a good place to practise my Japanese speaking skills. But even then, as quiet as it is, there's always somebody hanging around outside the door giggling at my attempts to pronounce this akward damn language. I have such a hard time with the pronunciation of passive verb conjugations in Japanese, and an even harder time when the principle's hiding round the corner slapping his knees with the other teachers.

Sometimes I get the feeling I'm being picked on.