Home, sweet home

19 08 2013

Back to the old place – long since empty and cobwebbed.

Bye bye Hiro

13 07 2008

See you in Sydney!!!!!!!

We’ll miss you.

The beginning, the end, the beginning of the end

13 07 2008

I’m leaving Japan in a few weeks.

The finality of it is starting to hit me now – saying goodbye at my schools, last lessons, teachers prodding their classes to say “I’ll miss you”, sweet gifts from thoughtful coworkers, embarrassed sayonara speeches to the staff room in my poor Japanese…. Its a strange self-conscious feeling to go to a workplace you have known for the last four years thinking “I’ll never do this again”…. I’m not really sad though. It doesnt feel hugely emotional, just a little jarring. Like an ordinary day with a weird, very unordinary undercurrent. I have said goodbye to two schools now, three more to go…

On Friday night we had the JET Official “Goodbye Ceremony” – just five of us, me, Matt, Jason, Emlyn and Kate. JET has come down to this! The ceremony was over in 5 minutes – I gave an unprepared speech, they handed us nice letters of thanks and the little wooden mosaic boxes the Board of Education gives as standard gifts. Then we all went to cafe, and an izakaya, and talked about what a weird, transitional time it was – to have seen JET shrinking from 60 to 5 people, and to be one of the last ones standing. Some people thought it was sad – I didn’t. It’s just change. Anticlimactic though, going out with a whimper rather than a bang.

I was much sadder on Saturday night to say goodbye to my good friend Hiro, off to Sydney, although it was a great, fun night. The party had a punk theme (or so I had been told) so I bought some Uniqlo T-shirts, ripped them up and then pinned them back with oversized pink safety pins, and worked my hair into the best “punk” style I could muster. At Advocates the street was crowded with drinkers, and then we headed off to new bar “Rehab” around the corner for more drinking, and tearful goodbye speeches, before the crowd thinned for the last train. On a whim I decided to stay and pull an allnighter, and I was glad I did. We went to Arty Farty – its been ages, years since I was on that tiny, trashy, pulsing dancefloor at 3am – the place where I had met Daisuke almost three years ago 🙂 The crush of bodies and the cigarette smoke and testosterone and blasting pop music were second nature to me then, but don’t feel that way anymore. I sat with friend Tac outisde, chatting to some random Americans and Dominicans while we rested in the gutter opposite, shooting the breeze, before heading off to another bar “Monsoon” for a drink. By now the sun was rising, and I went back to “Rehab” to say goodbye to Hiro. He is leaving, I am leaving. It really felt like the end of an era – my carefree Tokyo party friends, the little gang I had danced with at Ageha and on Enoshima beach, the people I have had so much fun with, such great times with, heading our separate ways. One last dance in Nichome – scene of so many of my memorable moments and little dramas, before I would soon leave it behind for good.

Its just a few weeks now!

The Flower Temple

4 07 2008

Kamakura’s Hasedera is famous as a “flower temple” – I had, by chance, arrived there once during the rainy season to find the small hilltop shrine, shaded by a bamboo grove, exploding with banks of blue and violet hydrangeas. It is quite stunning – or it would be, if there weren’t hordes of people, mostly elderly package tourists, absolutely everywhere.

I thought that I had missed the display this year, but apparently not. I probably caught the last few days of the hydrangeas. At another temple nearby, the heads of the flowers had already been savagely pruned off, and were lying rotting in heaps by the road. And yet even at the tail end of the season, at 11am on a hot Wednesday, there were more crowds than I would have liked.


As well as the hydrangea and bamboo gardens, the temple complex includes a terrace looking out over the rooftops of Kamakura to the sea, a quiet mossy graveyard where an eagle lay sunning himself, and a system of dark, damp caves, filled with tiny Buddha statues.



12 06 2008

Out jogging the other day, I saw a raccoon scuttling down a tree in a local schoolyard. I was kind of excited, because like squirrels, they are something we don’t have in Australia. It seems quite exotic. In fact I don’t think I have ever seen on before. I felt like I was on safari, and a herd of wildebeeste had just swept through my local shopping street.

Racoons are not native to Japan. They were introduced after a brief “pet boom” in the 1970s inspired by a  character on an animation of the time called “Racoon rascal”. After the fuss died down, people released the creatures en masse ( one individual alone set 40 of them free into the hills around Kamakura.) Today they cause 33 million yen worth of crop damage every year.

(The one I saw was much mangier than the one above, that I plucked off google images. It was long and skinny with dank, greasy colorless hair.)

The beginning of the end

3 06 2008

This week the rains hit Tokyo. Storm clouds have been stealthily drifting up from Kyushu for a while now. The skies have been darkening.  And this week it started- the つゆ、or Rainy Season. For a few weeks it will be damp, and grey.  A few weeks of umbrellas dripping in hallways, and tough mornings to get out of bed, eternal vigilance against the scourge of bathroom mould.

The irises and hydrangeas will bloom in the royal flower gardens.

And then the rains will lift and Tokyo’s long, baking, humid  Summer will begin. But this year, I’ll only be here for half of it. Its almost time – almost the end of JET. For a long time I had been scared of this transition – leaving Japan, and even more, leaving the insulated bubble of life on the JET Program, a life where I’m paid to do virtually nothing. Back to the real world of work responsibilities.

But, its time. Stressless though the job is, I am ready to leave. In the last six months I have found myself increasingly tired of it. Not the students so much, I realised, but the teachers. I’m tired of planning lessons and preparing lesson plans for teachers who don’t even read them, and make no effort to understand . I’m tired of working alongside high school teachers in their 50s, who have been doing this for thirty years, who still suck. I’m tired of seeing classes run with no goals, no curriculum and no clue. And I’m sick of working in a system that is so deeply flawed, no matter what I do, these children will never speak English.

Education to me is about opportunities, its about giving people chances. But the Japanese education system, I have come to realise, is about just the opposite. Its about sorting students and classifying them – putting them into their boxes and shipping them out into society to fill the niches they have been assigned. Corporate, service industries, blue-collar – its pretty much decided by the time each student is 12.  Schools are not about teaching math, or Japanese, and least of all English – they are about teaching students to “ganbaru”, to endure and to sacrifice, getting them ready for boring lives and teaching them obedience to their groups -here clubs, later companies.

I have become cynical. It is time to go.

And yet, I will be back. I have accepted a job for three months as a university lecturer, from September to December. What this means, is that I will leave Japan in July – to three weeks in South East Asia, then arriving homein Oz  (at JET’s expense) jat the start of the Australian high school recruiting season. Perfect!  I have six weeks for interviews, then its back to Tokyo (at the new employers expense), three more months with Daisuke, a month and a half holidays over new year (and maybe another trip?) and back to start my new life as a high school teacher in Oz in January (if all goes well). Knock on wood. I’m pretty proud of myself so far – its a seamless, perfect plan. Brilliantly organised if I say so myself. Not a single week wasted,  or on the dole, no cashflow problems, and time for two overseas trips. And another paid sojourn to Japan in the meantime. If it all works out, I’ll give myself a big pat on the back….


Japan’s pet peeve

22 05 2008


Japan is a country stumbling out of a long-term recession, with workers stressed and exhausted from outdated work practices, a ravished natural environment, poor relations with its neighbors and an unproductive education system. So it makes sense that there is one issue that captures the public imagination, and makes the blood of the Mr Yamamoto next door boil : yes, the sight of young women putting on makeup on public transport.


Personally I find it strange (and dangerous- who wants to apply a sharp mascara pencil on a bumpy crowded train?) But for many people it goes beyond that, to outright fury. They feel offended and violated that the fine line between public and private should be so blatantly disregarded, and that they be thrust, metaphorically, into some chick’s bathroom. Its a real hot-button issue.

And yet the practice is widespread. Its easy to see why. The patriachy. Japanese society still demands that its women be pretty  – or else. In many companies, including those that I have worked for, it is considered unprofessional for women to come to the office without a pancake-like layer of glittery foundation and crimson lips. Women in the workplace should be colorful and easy on the eyes – like potplants. That serve tea. I even know one late 30s woman whose mother is always nagging her to wear more makeup (so she can “find a husband”, natch)

So if you have to get up at 6.30 every morning to commute into your office from Saitama for an hour and a half, and you have a labor-intensive morning routine, it makes sense to multi-task.

So much so that the Subway company felt compelled to put up these billboards with their narcissistic lash-curling office lady, and the blunt slogan “Please. Do it at home.”