Archive for category Life in Japan
Working during my overtime day with a cold killed my voice, meaning I couldn’t teach today. Sorry NOVA!
I did my best to recover – lots of sleep, lots of tea and vitamin C drinks, and I binge watched Married With Children.
MWC was one of my favourite shows as a teenager: in addition to laughing at the continuous failures of Al Bundy, I had a huge crush on Kelly. The show is still funny now, although I found myself getting really annoyed by the excessive laugh track. My only other complaint was that they couldn’t get the rights to the song “Love and Marriage” to open the episode on the DVD release, so they simply dubbed in some generic music over the title cards which is pretty weak.
There are around 100,000 Shinto shrines in Japan ranging in size from massive structures like Mishima Taisha down to tiny miniature shrines on the side of the road. The Penpal has a neighbourhood shrine near her house, and today I was invited to the annual festival where her father volunteers.
The neighbourhood shrine was small, but was surrounded by a large courtyard where I found the usual stalls that are found at festivals around the country: yakisoba, yakitori, takoyaki, and some treats for the kids. As I was filling myself full of delicious yakitori, I started to notice that I was the ONLY person at the festival who wasn’t Japanese. Many of the people seemed surprised to see a gaijin at the neighbourhood festival. Even after 3 years in Japan, it’s still fun to surprise people by eating with chopsticks or speaking Japanese, both things that aren’t normally expected from a foreigner.
In addition to the food, there was also a free bingo game with lots of prizes. As people got bingo, they got to choose a prize from the prize table. Eventually it was my turn to get a bingo, and I proudly walked to the prize table at the front of the crowd, smiling as people stared at me. I chose a badminton set, which was probably not ideal considering that I’m moving back to Canada in about a month.
In the evening I got to enjoy a wonderful home cooked meal at The Penpal’s house, a treat for someone who eats convenience store and pub food far too often. After dinner, I was shown the family photo album including pictures of The Penpal as a kid. Japanese people as a rule don’t smile for pictures, but The Penpal took that a step further looking positively annoyed at having her picture taken.
When we had embarrassed my fiancee thoroughly, the Penpal and her mother went to wash the dishes. What came next was the highlight of the evening: I was watching TV with The Penpal’s father, my future father-in-law, when he handed me the remote control for the TV. I think this means that I am now officially accepted into the family! Hooray!
After work I had plans with a few teachers to go for a beer at Wara Wara. Our outing started small, but as word got around more people kept showing up. Our table started to get cramped, so we asked to upgrade to a larger table. Wara Ware was already hosting a large party, so they couldn’t give us anything bigger.
Since we didn’t want to remain stacked like sardines, we relocated to Uotami, where we were joined by even more teachers and friends. I’m not sure if everyone really needed a drink, or if people were afraid of missing out: whatever the reason our small group going for a few beers had turned into an event. We eventually outgrew our table at Uotami, so the staff moved us into an available party room.
The good news is that our spacious party room contained a karaoke machine. The bad news was that the karaoke machine did not have the usual selection of English songs that we could find at our usual karaoke places. The thought of staring at an unused karaoke machine was too much for me to bear, so I started searching through the song book for anything that might have more English than Japanese.
Many of the printed songbooks for karaoke rooms show the first line of the song next to the name and artist. I scanned through the list and stopped at something that looked amazing: Sad Cows Song by Japanese ska / punk bank Shakalabbits.
The song was 98 seconds of pure awesome. With lyrics including “Let us drink to much milk hey, because we feel sorry for the cows around the world” it quickly because a highlight of our evening. Hooray for Shakalabbits!
Today I attended the annual English / Japanese speech contest at Numazu library. The event was hosted by NICE – Numazu Association for International Communication and Exchanges. The Penpal is a member of NICE, so I went along to check it out.
When I learned about the contest a few months ago, I had given some thought to entering. The demand was much greater than the supply – 24 people tried to enter but only 10 Japanese speeches were presented. There were also 10 English speeches by Japanese residents. My favourite speeches were about the differences in communication styles between Japanese and American housewives, and an elderly Japanese man’s scorching rant about those annoying teens in sweatpants who hang out in front of convenience stores.
I really admire the courage shown by everyone who made a speech: public speaking makes a lot of people nervous, nevermind public speaking in your second language.
I overslept before the contest and didn’t have any time to eat before I got there. By the end of 20 speeches I was STARVING. On my way home I stopped at the new donair food truck in front of Don Kihote. If you’ve never eaten a donair, you are truly missing out on one of life’s great pleasures.
When I got home I received an invite from the Penpal to come over for dinner. I was still full from my late lunch, but I never, EVER refuse homemade curry. Yum!
For the 3rd year in a row I went to The Penpal’s piano recital. As usual, she was fantastic, making difficult pieces look easy.
The star of the show was the 3 year old boy who played first. When he got to the middle of the stage and saw the crowd his expression was hilarious! He needed a special chair and booster pedals, but he played a simple song well.
Yes, 3 year olds play piano better than I do.
Today I made my second ever appearance as a paid children’s entertainer for Yamaha English school. Apparently my performance as “foreigner Santa” went well enough to get another call.
The event I was working was in nearby Fuji City. Usually when I go to Fuji I take the train, which is comfortable and stress free. Today I got a ride with some of the teachers from Yamaha (all friends of The Penpal). The roads between Numazu and Fuji were narrow and terrifying. The same roads in Canada would have been one way streets or back alleys, but in Japan they were two way streets where we came perilously close to walls or other cars. Even through I have been in Japan for 3 years, part of my brain is still convinced that driving on the left is wrong. This, combined with the narrow roads, made for a scary experience.
We arrived safely and set up for the parties. There were two groups: young kids in the morning and older kids in the afternoon. The Yamaha teachers had a list of activities already prepared, so all I needed to do was speak English, follow the script, and be fun. Highlights included a giant game of rock paper scissors with a line of kids and a ridiculous “Simon Says” type game. Fortunately for everyone involved, I was not required to sing.
By the end I was exhausted, but I had fun and so did the kids. A few of the parents even asked me to pose for pictures with their kids, which I took as a compliment. I’m sure that in a few years nobody will remember why they had a picture with the random Canadian guy.
I wish I had gotten some pictures or video of my work – it would be fun to look back someday and remind myself of what I did for money while I lived in Japan. I did get a video of parts of the scary ride back to Numazu, which I’m sure will make me thankful for the wide, straight roads of Winnipeg when I move home.
All the respect in the world to full time children’s entertainers – it’s hard work!
A few days ago I was celebrating that without doing anything, my travel agent got me a better connecting flight on my trip home.
Today I received yet another letter from the travel agent. This one said that a fuel surcharge had been applied to the ticket that I had already paid for. I needed to go to their office and pay an additional 5000 yen (about $50) for my ticket home. WTF? I’m not sure if the problem is with the travel agent or Air Canada, but it sucks either way.
On a more positive note, I got to work at Fuji school today, like I will be doing every Friday this month. Working at Fuji is like a vacation compared to Numazu – there are fewer students, the kids classes are well behaved, and the students in Voice are extra friendly, like most schools with a visiting teacher.