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Saturday, August 27, 2011

An English Boy in Matsuyama: Part Ni

Farewell, Matsuyama!

So that’s it – my stay in Matsuyama has come to an end. I’m on the bus back to Ainan now jotting this down in Word to do my sieve-memory a favour. It’s been a really eventful two weeks – by day I’ve been attending my Japanese language class at EPIC (Ehime Prefectural Information Centre), and by night hanging out with as many different JETs as possible! I stayed at Rachel’s in Hojo for a few days, and spent a night with Jacqui in Imabari too. Imabari was a bit of an eerie place – the streets were deserted and full of boarded-up shops. It felt like some sort of post-apocalyptic ghost town... creeeeeepy!

I also spent three nights in Hiroshima with Tom, the Kiwi I met at Tokyo Orientation. My journey there was a struggle, to say the least. Hopping on the ferry, I wasn’t really sure what was going on but, using my piecemeal Japanese, I managed to work out from a bunch of old ladies that the ferry I was travelling on was stopping in two places: first, in Kure, a town not far away from Tom’s place in Akitsu; and second, in Hiroshima City: the city of the prefecture and a full on two-hour trek away from Akitsu. I felt pretty accomplished that I’d managed to find that all out using my minimal Japanese. Sadly, I was blinded by my own success and, observant as ever, chose the exact moment of the first stop in Kure to decide I needed the bathroom. By the time I was out, we’d had time to stop in Kure, refuel and disembark for the distant shores of Hiroshima City. So that’s where I ended up: a stupid gaijin stranded in the big city. Luckily, I somehow managed to make my way to the train station where Tom eventually met me. The whole tram ride there I could do nothing but laugh. Partially because the tram driver seemed to think he was one with the vehicle and kept making “whoooosh!” sounds as we took off down the street; and partially because I was just downright delirious, having  managed to turn what should’ve been a two-and-a-half hour journey into a seven hour marathon. Banter.

If I spent as much time studying the guidebooks as I did posing for arty photos with them, I probably wouldn't get so lost.

As if that wasn’t enough, all that stupidity was rewarded with a bucketload of rain, English summer style. Tom told me it was the first time he’d seen rain in Hiroshima. This made me feel even better. What’s more, with Tom not yet having his car, our options were limited. That being so, we did what any tourist keen to see the local sights does: grabbed ten cans from the local supermarket and opted for a night in watching a full season of RuPaul’s Drag Race. Hahaha. We fared a little bit better in getting out and about the next morning, having been invited to a Japanese calligraphy class with some cute old ladies. It was the first time I’d done it, so I was predictably shit, but it was a good laugh and we ended up going out for lunch with the teachers afterwards.

On the way back, we stopped at one of the local temples too and had a nosey around. Managed to get some pretty cool shots on my camera...the best of which were courtesy of Tom:

With the weekend over, it was time for me to head back to Matsuyama – having a week of living in the city already under my belt, I managed to find some pretty cool places to eat and drink. I also developed a bit of a sweet-tooth for puri-kura. Two nights in a row I found myself in one of the photo machines (with slogans like “FRESH VIRGIN SKIN” written on the side...dubious) pulling super-kawaii faces to the camera before spending ten minutes perfecting “the look” on the editing machines next door.
The second time I went was with two random girls I’d met on the beach during my first week in Matsuyama. We’d gone for Katie’s birthday and were just heading off when they both ran over to me and asked me what my favourite Japanese word was. They introduced themselves as Chihiro and Eri and I knew I was onto a winner when, after having forgotten Eri’s name when asked, she proceeded to stamp her feet, fake cry and run in circles around me. Fucking hilarious. So when I got a text from Chihiro saying she “WANTED TO DRINK WITH JAMES! <3” (that was the actual text), obviously I was madkeen. So that’s what we did: Wednesday night, me, Chihiro and Eri met at Okkaido for yakitori and puri-kura. They were hilarious – Chihiro came armed with her little electronic English dictionary, but (obviously) it KO’d so we were left to cope alone. I was actually pretty surprised at how much we were able to talk and understand each other – looks like the language classes have paid off, baby!

The next morning, with more puri-kura than money in my wallet, I ventured up to Matsuyama Castle with another JET, Lionel, and his two brothers who were visiting. I’m happy someone else was there to convince me to get out of bed and actually make the effort to see the Castle – I’d already told myself for three consecutive mornings that I’d get up early enough to squeeze in a visit before class and three times bed had won out. A quick cable-cart ride to the top of the hill and there it was. Matsuyama Castle. I was just thankful I took the cable-cart – the hike looked vicious and it was fucking hot AS.
 Matsuyama Castle: casual chairlift to the top.
Oh, and whilst I was in Matsuyama, one of my friends (Annie) gave me an awesome little charm for my phone – it’s of Tony Tony Chopper from One Piece. I don’t watch the programme, but it’s the shit over here and apparently there’s a Tony Tony Chopper phone charm for each prefecture in Japan. So I’ve decided that, every time I visit a new prefecture, I’m going to pick up the charm from that prefecture and pin it to a big map of Japan I’ve got sitting up in my room! Should make for a cool little collection :D
So, that’s it: highlights of my time in Matsuyama in a nutshell! I’m still about two hours away from Ainan on this bus nursing some pretty brutal post-lash sweats. There was no way my last night in Matsuyama was going to end in any way other than drinking a shedload of booze and causing some havoc. (Un)fortunately, those were Rachel’s hopes too, so that’s exactly what happened: we started by grabbing some bottles and heading to the park; what went down after that is still a mystery. Apparently we broke into Takashimaya Beer Garden without paying, rubbed it in all the paying customer’s faces, then stumbled off to karaoke. There, I threw a fit because they didn't have "Nancy Sinatra - Sugartown" and I wanted to pretend I was Summer from (500) Days of Summer. Butch. I kind of remember the latter but the former was a complete revelation when Rachel told me this morning. Oops. Might be a good thing that I’m leaving Matsuyama for a while. Haha. Oh, and I woke up with a tub of western-style toothpaste in my pocket. No idea how. And I’ve got some pretty rough grazes on my knees and feet – this I do remember: put simply, I won’t be trying to ride on the back of Rachel’s bike when we’re both wasted again anytime soon.

               Yeah, we paid for it the next morning. 'cept I was the only one taking photos.
I’ve been back in Ainan for a night now and have used that time to rest up and start sorting out my life at last – I’ve finally got my bank card, so I can get my hands on all that dollar that’s been sitting in my bank account teasing me for the past two weeks! I’ve also started to make more of a home out of my place – I put all my pictures up this afternoon and gave the place a good clean. I still need to do a big furniture shop to Japan-ify the place, but it’s a start :D Now that I’m back in Ainan for the foreseeable future, I guess this is it: summer holidays are winding down and there’s no more two-week holiday in the City to bum around in. I’ll be quite happy to get a bit of stability, to be honest – everything’s been so chop-and-change for the past month: one night here, another there, that it’ll be nice to finally feel like I’ve got a base I can call home and a community I can start breaking into!
In that vein, I texted one of my language students on the bus-ride home – the adorable 73-year old Chiyo – and asked her if she wanted to go out for dinner when I got back. She was madkeen and before I knew it there I was, out for dinner at a local fish restaurant with her and four friends. Even though I had to feign my best “this is delicious!” face whilst trying not to wretch from all the raw fish, they were all beyond kawaii.  One of them, Mitsuko, told me that her “heart was beating fast” when she met me before presenting me with a gift-bag full of beer and cookies. Japanese hospitality is literally ridiculous. So much love for them.

I’ve also somewhat impulsively enrolled in a karate class (at the local police station of all places!). I used to do it as a kid, but gave it up when I was a teenager. Well, now I’m back! And, sorry Mum and Dad, all that time and money you spent on classes officially amounted to nothing. I SUCK, as Tuesday’s class unsurprisingly revealed. Luckily, I’ve got shedloads more humility than I had as a kid so being crap is more hilarious than annoying. Especially when the eight-year old girl with bunches outclasses you. Hahaha. Luckily, she outclassed Elayna too so I wasn’t too bothered. And it seemingly doesn’t cost anything, either! The class and the gi were given to me for free and I was invited back next week. Now, physical exertion isn’t usually something I’m down with, but I’d feel bad turning my teacher’s generosity down! And it was the first time in a long time that I can remember sweat dripping down my face, so it must be a good workout!
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Friday, August 19, 2011

Time for a gagglefuck!

So, it seems gaijins in Japan have an insanely magnetic quality. It's not like at home where you need to know someone before you hang out with them - otherwise that's just weird - here, just being a gaijin is enough to break down the "but-I-don't-know-you" barrier. Hence why we all ended up at this random Brazilian chick's birthday last night. I'd never met her before, and nor had at least half of the attendees, it seemed, but she was a gaijin so that was enough! It's great because it means it's so much easier to meet new people - by the end of the night I knew "random Brazilian chick" was a really cool girl called Karin, who we've said we'll meet up with again soon! Chelsea coigned the term "gagglefuck" as an incorrect replacement for some American slang I'd never heard of, and it's now become a term for any big gathering of people we're at. I'm finding that the way I talk is slowly being polluted with these hilarious foreign phrases - my favourite at the moment is "peace out". It's one the Canadians use a lot to just mean, "let's go". Love it.

So I'm off to Hiroshima this weekend to stay with Tom! Bit of a last minute panic when my supervisor text me this morning telling me I can't withdraw any money from my bank account without my card (which I haven't been sent yet). Luckily, Elayna's stepped up to the mark and said she's willing to cover me until I get back to Ainan. WHAT A HERO. Without her, not only would I not have been able to eat for the coming week, but, more importantly, I wouldn't've been able to afford the ferry to Hiroshima! Phew!

Peace out.

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Thursday, August 18, 2011


So many people have got so much crap to say about J-Pop. I'm not even going to entertain it. I FUCKING LOVE IT. AKB48 are the shit over here at the moment... and this song is EVERYWHERE.

I'm obssessed.
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Saturday, August 13, 2011

An English Boy in Matsuyama: Part Ichi

I am literally in love with this picture. But, before I explain the context, there's something that needs covering: namely, the fact that I spent Wednesday morning IN HOSPITAL.
When informed of the fact that I’d spent the morning being looked at by a doctor, Tom, my friend from New Zealand that I met in Tokyo, presumed (like many of my other friends would, depressingly), that it was with alcohol poisoning. I can confirm that the reality was much less glamorous: it was, in fact, an ear infection that I’d picked up from swimming in the sea. After two hours waiting, and a further half an hour of having my ears prodded with hot needles (ohmyDAYS the pain), I was allowed to escape with a prescription for some antibiotics.  It was a little scary being in a foreign hospital not understanding what the fuck was going on, but one of the Japanese teachers I work with (Miyazaki-sensei, a pretty good speaker of English), was there to do all the translation and see me through, so everything was alright in the end! Plus, I got given the rest of the day off work to rest at home! Every cloud, right?
Also, for my first eight nights in Ainan, I was lucky enough to have to cook dinner for myself only once! The good thing about being a gaijin in a small town full of hospitable people is that everyone you meet will fall over themselves to try and show you snippets of their culture by, amongst other things, plying you with heaps of Japanese food. So on Monday night, Miyazai-sensei treated me to shabu-shabu at her house, where, as well as being presented with some lavish homemade cooking, I was also gifted with my very own yukata... the kanji on the back says “ichiban”, which means “first” or “number one”... she knows me too well; on Tuesday night, my supervisor’s family threw me a traditional Japanese barbeque, where fish-hating me somehow found himself eating shark, swordfish and clams, swapping numbers with a 73-year old lady in my adult conversation class who I promised to call, AND doing a post-barbeque tour of the local karaoke establishments until four in the morning (including personal renditions crucifixions of the Beach Boys, Beyonce, U2, Lady Gaga, Nicki Minaj, Ne-Yo, Wham! and Britney Spears... most of which were thrust upon me by eager Japanese people wanting to hear some well-known English songs sung by a native speaker); and, finally, on Wednesday night, Haru’s original owners cooked me okonomiyaki at their place... DELISH!
So after yet more busy days (and nights) in Ainan, it was time for me, on Thursday morning, to hop on a bus and head north to Matsuyama, not only the capital city of Ehime prefecture, but also the largest city on the whole island of Shikoku. It’s three hours away by bus from Ainan and it's here that the above photo was taken on Thursday night. Here in Matsuyama, I’ve been busy attending the Ehime Prefectural Orientation (basically a smaller series of lectures for all the new Ehime JETs: think Tokyo Orientation but on a smaller scale), which finished yesterday, and, from Monday, I’ll be taking part in a Japanese language course for ten days!  The Ehime Orientation was, essentially, both good and bad for the same reasons as Tokyo: good for providing an opportunity to meet a bunch of other interesting JETs, bad for consisting of a jam-packed schedule of lectures of variable levels of interest. Anyway, on Thursday night (the first night of the Orientation), there was a social for all the new JETs at an izakaya in the middle of the city: basically, you pay 2500 yen up front (around £15) for all the food and drink you want. This was a completely alien concept to me. And only now do I understand why I’d never seen these places at home. The thing is, the Japanese are a polite, unassuming bunch, so give them an all-you-can-drink event and they’ll pace themselves like they would on any other night. The gimmick is lost on the majority of them, really. Switch the crowd to a bunch of twenty-something gaijins and the phrase “all-you-can-drink” suddenly becomes a challenge. We’re not so polite, and not so unassuming, and we’re here to get our money’s worth. Unsurprisingly, then, the outcome is very different.  In a word: carnage. I certainly wasn’t the only one stumbling into lectures on Friday morning looking like he’d been shat all over by a sweat monster after a few too many chu-hais. And I certainly wasn’t the only one still feeling rough when we all met up to hang out in the park the next night.
So now it’s the weekend and Orientation’s over. The language course doesn’t start till Monday, so I treated myself this morning to my first lie-in since God knows when. Plus, class is only two hours a day for the next two weeks, and the rest of the time I’m free, so I figure I’ve got plenty of time left to explore Matsuyama. I want to go up to Matsuyama Castle on the hill at some point. Just cruising around the city this evening, I managed to stumble upon a carnival in the street – I thought I’d take a path I hadn’t been down before to try and find somewhere new to eat and BAM, hello street festival! There were rows of dancers for as far as the eye can see – little kids, old women, even a Thomas the Tank Engine seemed everyone had turned out to celebrate something. If only I knew what it was!

Oh, forgot to say – my first pay day’s this Friday. The priority with my newfound wealth is to redecorate my apartment back in Ainan. Reckon I’ll also buy myself a Nintendo 3DS and take advantage of the fact that the new Mario Kart’s being released donkeys years earlier over here than it is at home. Yeah, I’m cool. At the moment, I’m booked into the local capsule hotel where I’m sitting writing all this down. I figured I couldn’t turn down the offer of the chance to spend a night sleeping in a pill-shaped pod. Plus, it’s dirt-cheap and slap bang in the middle of the town.  Ideal.

 So I’ve been living in a capsule for three nights now... I figure it’s time to move on. On that basis, I’m off to stay with my friend Rachel (a fellow first-year Ehime JET from Canada) in Hojo, which is a twenty minute train ride away from Matsuyama city centre. Rachel’s been kind enough to say I can stay the week, so I’ll be with her in Hojo until Friday. Then, after class is over on Friday, I’m off to Hiroshima to visit Tom. Luckily, Hiroshima Prefecture is just north of Ehime Prefecture on Honshu Island... I’m not quite sure how I’m getting there yet, but apparently there’s a ferry from Imibari or something. I’ll work it out! So then I’ll spend three nights at Tom’s in Akitsu before rushing back on Monday to spend my last five days in Matsuyama! Since when was life this chaotic?

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Sunday, August 7, 2011

Week One: Highlights

Konnichiwa! Right, let’s get down to business – I’ve been in Japan for a week now, but haven’t got internet set up in my apartment yet, so I’m jotting this down in MS Word and will upload it whenever I manage to get the net sorted. So much has happened in this past week I figure that if I spew some word vomit soon, I’ll forget it all!
So, I flew out from Heathrow on Saturday and arrived in Tokyo for the JET Orientation around 9AM Sunday morning. Found myself unexpectedly choked at Dobby’s death watching Harry Potter on the flight over – pretty odd considering that I didn’t shed a tear when saying goodbye to the folks. Just something about seeing pixellated elves getting butchered that gets me every time. The hotel where the Tokyo Orientation was being held was the luxurious Keio Plaza – slap-bang in the middle of Shinjuku and sky-scraper central. Awesome. After touching down in Tokyo, I tried to power through the impending JET lag (HO HO HO) by exploring the city, but even the deafening chorus of Pachinko  wasn’t enough to keep me awake. By 4PM, I was defeated and had to reach for the white flag. Back to the hotel and back to bed. The Orientation lectures themselves were generally forgettable – there were some pretty good speakers on occasionally, but the best bit by far was getting to do some shameless networking and meet all the other shiny new JETs. Group B was mainly made up of Brits, Yanks, Kiwis and a peppering of other, more obscure, countries. Met a really cool guy from New Zealand called Tom who I’ve agreed to meet up with sometime soon – we’ve been swapping a few emails sharing our settling-in stories which has been good! He’s in Hiroshima at the moment, which is only a few hours north of Ehime so it shouldn’t be too difficult to sort something out! :D

Ainan versus Tokyo... a little different, right?
Come Wednesday morning it was time to say sayonara to Tokyo and hop on another plane, this time to Matsuyama, the capital of Ehime prefecture. Arriving in Matsuyama was certainly an experience. There was a full-on convoy of our future co-workers waiting in the arrivals lounge with a crazy array of banners, all whooping and cheering as the new JETs came in – one of them was even dressed head-to-toe in traditional kimono. Don’t know how she managed it in the 35 degree heat!  I alone had six people waiting for me: three other ALTs (Aaron, Elayna and Joel) and three Japanese teachers I’m going to be working with. A three-hour drive down to Ainan later, it was time to start settling in. I arrived at my apartment, where I was met by more whooping Japanese who swept me off grocery shopping and then out for dinner. After a hectic few days orienting and travelling, I really, really just wanted to go to bed, but they all looked so happy and excited that declining their offers would’ve been like shooting a kid on Christmas. For the next two days I was pretty much just shipped from person-to-person as we went round town trying to sort my new life out. Opening bank accounts, registering as an alien (LOL)... I didn’t understand what the fuck was going on for 90% of the time, but I just smiled, stamped my hanko on any papers that were given to me and played along. Who knows what I even accomplished. I was just grateful when it was all over and I could head back to bed.
Having managed to escape from all that administrative mumbo-jumbo, I was relieved to get down to some serious business and start drinking. Me and the three other Ainan ALTs, all swung by the local offie and picked up some bevs for my unofficial welcome enkai ("party"). Needless to say, details after that are a little hazy. With Aaron at home with the family, me, Elayna and Joel ended up at some Japanese-Italian restaurant where the bartender kept plying me with free rum and cokes after I said I liked rum. I, in my best effort to ingratiate myself with the locals, repaid his generosity by drunkenly-swiping a bottle of some weird Japanese sake off his shelf. I figure if he’s the one fuelling the alcoholic flames, he’s the one that’ll have to deal with the consequences. Why am I such an arsehole? Haha.

Elayna pops the cork on the year-to-come!

Well and truly sozzled, Elayna ended up crashing at mine. Next morning, we got up pretty early the and headed over to hers on the other side of Ainan, about a twenty minute drive away. To say that me and Elayna hit it off well is an understatement. We get on GREAT. Arriving at hers, we wanted to go swimming in the sea, but the typhoon that was brewing just off Okinawa meant that the waves were pretty rough, so we jumped the fence to one of the pools at Elayna’s school instead. Chilling in the pool, I was pretty overwhelmed. The area around us was completely deserted and the scenery was ridiculous. I don’t know how my life’s got to this point but I’m bloody grateful that it has.


After that, we headed to the local
onsen for some chill time. When you’re thrust in the situation where you’ve got to get butt-naked in front of a bunch of leering Japanese men, there’s not really much you can do but oblige. They didn’t show this side to the hot springs in Spirited Away, that’s for sure. Regardless, I didn’t want them thinking I had anything to be ashamed of, so off the trunks came. Post-onsen we swung back to Elayna’s where it was time to get prepping for the barbeque we were having that evening. Again, details from this point on aren’t exactly crystal clear. About twenty of Elayna’s friends from all over town (and some new JETs from Uwajima, just north of Ainan) turned up and toasted the new year in. One of the JETs that taught in Ainan last year – Aodhin from Ireland – also came back to see all her former co-workers. It’s such a shame that she didn’t decide to stay for another year – me, Elayna and her got on like an onsen on fire.  Oh, and as if that wasn’t bad enough, one unfortunate memory I did manage to retain was being repeatedly told by some wasted Japanese lady that she wanted my “good sperm”. God I wish I were lying. What do you even say to that? Hilarious.

Welcome barbeque!

In general, the Japanese people I’ve met seem to flit between three stages when I’m first introduced to them : (i) being shocked at how tall I am and asking my height; (ii) being shocked at how slim I am and offering me shed-loads of food;  and (iii) being shocked at how young I am and asking how old my parents are. If it’s the third, my Japanese isn’t great, so I just pick the first number that pops into my head that’s easiest to say... chances are I’m saying my parents are older than Japan itself, but they seem to be pretty excited whatever the response.
Next morning, after the barbeque, the waves in the sea had died down so we had the chance to go swimming. The whirlwind of the past week seemed to catch up with me and I found myself chundering all over the rocks post-sea. Oops. Retching over, we swung by a small, local place for lunch. Eating our udon off tree stumps whilst the owner hand-fed his wild boar, I again wondered how my life had got to this point. I also somehow managed to come back from lunch with a new cat. That sounds like one of those Facebook pages, right? I don’t really know what my decision-making process consisted of. I don’t think there was really one, to be honest. There was just a stray week-old kitten, I thought it was cute, so I took it home. The owners gave me a box for it to sleep in and a big tub of powdered milk and that was it. I gave him a name (Haru-chan, after the main character in “The Cat Returns”), picked him up some cat-supplies from Fuji, the local supermarket and off we drove into the sunset. [Insert obvious “I-thought-you-hated-pussy” joke here]. Shopping at Fuji was pretty funny, actually: thing is, Ainan’s a small town, and if you’re a gaijin, you stand out. What’s more, if you’re a gaijin boy shopping with a gaijin girl, you’re obviously a couple. With that in mind, you can imagine the looks me and Elayna got when we were perusing the maternity section for a baby bottle to feed Haru with.  If only they knew!
So, that’s a round-up of my first week in Japan! Haru’s chilling in his box next to me and I’m just about ready for bed again. Got to be up early in the morning to do a tour of my schools. God I hope I get internet soon!

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