Chasing Cherry Blossoms
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Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Abandoned libraries and ritualistic suicide.

Seasons are a-changing in Japan! Fireflies are lighting up the night sky, frogs are gossiping in the freshly-irrigated rice fields and my eyes are itching something criminal. PHOTO SEQUENCE:

There was a matsuri here in Ainan this Sunday, so the whole crew got together!

The forecast had called for rain, but the weather was scorching!

Two friends at a local food stall treated us all to friendship bracelets, which - in one of our more elementary school girl BFF moments - we all DEVOURED.

Yup, spring is here! And as May moves into June, I’m finding new ways to keep my life here fresh and interesting. 

For starters, I’ve begun reading a lot more books. When I first moved into my apartment here in Johen, you’d be forgiven for mistaking it for an abandoned library. Books were spilling out from every cupboard and crevice. Sifting through the debris, I put some of the less appealing volumes aside (“The Case for Christ”, anyone?) and opted for some Japanese fiction by Haruki Murakami (“Kafka on the Shore”) and Yukio Mishima (“The Sound of Waves”). They both reminded me how much I love a good book. “Kafka…” is a pretty intense read: it’s like something of an extended riddle. Mysteries are layered on top of more mysteries and, whereas a typical fiction book would allow everything to be unravelled by the final chapters… that’s just not the case here. Instead, Murakami trolls your arse for 600-pages: reeling you in, making you salivate and then whopping a massive DICKHEAD stamp on your forehead. Of course, in reality, things are a little more intricate than that. Although the answers to the book’s riddles weren’t apparent to me on a first reading, Murakami has promised that there are answers to be found in the book. Having taken some time (and a few counselling session) to mull everything over, I think I may just have uncovered some of the solutions – but as Murakami has said himself, there’s no illumination without a re-reading. So, re-read it I will. (I urge you all to read it too, if only so you can explain it to me ONEGAISHIMASU).

“The Sound of Waves” was a much more straightforward affair, and really enjoyable, too. For all of its innocence as a novel about first love, its author was a staunch radicalist, and has become something of a cult figure in Japan since his death. A successful (gay) Japanese novelist during the 50s and 60s, he staged an attempted coup d’état of the Japanese government in 1970, only to be mocked and jeered by those he summoned to rise up, moments after which he committed a gruelling ritualistic suicide. It’s an amazing history… and I’ve already Amazon’d much of the rest of his bibliography. (Interestingly, the copy I found wedged in the back of a cupboard in my apartment was older than me, coming all the way from the 1960s; yellowed and cover-less, whenever I took it somewhere to read, it'd shed pieces of its skin like a mother animal laying eggs, desperate for a bit of its legacy to struggle on).

Before that, though, I’m pouring over another Murakami hon: his newest, 1Q84. At 900 pages, it’ll probably take me a while. Nonetheless, I’m interested to know: are there any books you’ve read recently you’d recommend? I seldom get comments here, but if you’re reading and you’ve got a book you think I should add to my “To Read” list, I’d appreciate hearing about it!

Enjoy spring while it lasts!

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Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Memes, Japanese Style

So, my obsession with this website (and memes in general) is nothing new. That being so, here are a few I've adapted to the JET experience. Enjoy!

When someone compliments me on being able to use chopsticks.

On the outside, I'm like:

On the inside, I'm like:

Me and my JTE dancing to the Eigo Noto CD:

When my JTE suggests I should join after-school activities:

My love life in the past nine months:

My approach to lesson-planning:

When I accidentally pull my "Elementary School Face" with my Junior High Kids:




Everyone else:


Why I like puri kura:

Me before:

Me after:

When I say "osaki ni shitshurei shimasu", really I'm just like:

Whenever there's a minor tremor, I think it's a massive earthquake and I'm like:

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Monday, May 14, 2012

A Bucketful of Salt

So it's been over a YEAR since I started this blog. Wow. Time's been flapping its wings away at a ridiculous pace, it seems. So much so that it's almost time for a whole new generation of JETs to step into the Big J. So, what's my advice to anyone about to embark on JET?

Well, the single biggest piece of advice I would give to anyone coming on the JET programme is this: learn to laugh at yourself. Whatever age it is you find yourself teaching, the inevitable truth is that, for the next year at least, you’re going to be thrust up at the front of the class on a daily basis, forty pairs of eyes watching you, waiting for you to fuck up. And trust me, you will fuck up. And they won’t miss a second of it.  

In my first few months here, I was a little self-conscious about it all. Not understanding what it was the kids were whispering about when they were sniggering amongst themselves, I assumed the worst. Are my flies undone? Have I pissed myself and not realised again? WHAT’S GOING ON. Then one day my teacher pulled me aside, “Err, Jim-sensei… the kids think it’s kinda funny that they can see your phone in your pocket.”

That was literally it. Nothing personal. Nothing to be upset about. Just kids being kids. And once you can get past the fact that even your most innocuous “mistakes” are going to be met with raucous laughter, everything suddenly becomes a whole lot more enjoyable. (You should hear my kids when I try and pronounce their names. Lord). What’s more, if you can laugh along with it all and show everyone that, you know what, you’re actually not afraid of fucking up in front of a crowd, then you might just be able to inspire the same kind of confidence in your students. Lose your inhibition, don’t be afraid to make an ass of yourself and JUST GO FOR IT. Lord knows I never would’ve tried my hand at baseball with a bunch of semi-professional 15 year-olds before.  But now, even though my swing probably isn’t strong enough to qualify me for even a “Good Effort” rosette, I’ve got no qualms in hanging with the Baseball Boys and giving it a shot. I’m Godawful. They know it. I know it. But when you’re laughing so hard you can’t breathe, something tells me it doesn’t really matter.

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Monday, May 7, 2012

Mama and Papa Kemp Do Japan!

Now, I don't want to be one to labour a joke (Facebook friends, beware), but it's been over nine months since I first touched down in the Big J. Man, I could've had a baby in that time. So could there be any better time for my own Ma and Pa to pay me a visit and see the new Japanese life these thighs have borne? (Metaphor getting awkward now).

We planned my parents' visit for Golden Week - the week in the Japanese calendar most rife with national holidays - so that, despite only taking four days off work, I was able to spend a chunky eleven days showing them around my new home! Together we got hustled and bustled in Tokyo, took in Hiroshima's biggest festival of the year (the 2012 Hana Matsuri), and spent a booze-fuelled few days relaxing with my friends here in Johen!

Gyoen National Park in Shinjuku, Tokyo was really a sight worth seeing!

Meeting my friends!

Yakiniku: just one of the Japanese delicacies my parents got to try during their stay!

Not only had there been a gap of almost a year since I last saw my parents, but also my circumstances have (obviously) undergone something of a complete overhaul. I mean, I guess I had my first taste of living away from home "independently" when I started university aged 18. But, even then, that was only in eight-week doses. And, financially, I was still Bank of Mum and Dad's most loyal customer. Since coming to Japan, however, not only have I built my life from scratch, disentangled from any residual apron springs, but I'm financially independent too: I earn my own salary, buy my own groceries and pay my own bills. Destiny's Child, eat that shit up.

Dubious pop references aside, this has a point: it was the first time I'd seen my parents where I felt like I was meeting them as an adult, rather than as their child. And not just an adult, but an adult on whom my parents, speaking no Japanese in (what is to them) a foreign country, were entirely dependent. It was a dynamic I hadn't really anticipated when planning their arrival all those months ago. Of course, I did my best not to let it stand in the way of ensuring they had the amazing holiday they deserved. I just didn't expect to be so suddenly thrown back into the kind of child's life I'd left back in England! Nevertheless, looking back on their visit now, I think I can safely say it was a case of mission most certainly accomplished! My parents got to see a slice of the dynamism of Japanese life (both city and inaka), try some amazing Japanese foods, meet my even more amazing Japanese friends and be subject to my dubious attempts to show off all the Japanese I've learnt! Of course, not everything ran without a hitch. For the first few days, it certainly seemed that the old adage "Everywhere you go, you always take the weather with you" had cursed the trip, as overnight the glorious Japanese sunshine was replaced with a dreary British rain. Luckily, there was the breathtaking sights at Miyajima, Hiroshima to make everything better!

Oh, wait. Yeah, I guess that one didn't exactly work out, either. But when you've got an amazing pair of parents in a country as amazing as Japan, even a few bumps in the road don't amount to much! Interestingly, my parents also said they thought I'd developed a bit of an accent since leaving home last year. I guess that's something it'd be impossible for me to gauge myself, but I'm intrigued to see if my other family and friends think the same upon my return!

Anyway, thanks Mum and Dad for coming to visit! See you again in December!

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