Wednesday, 12 December 2007

Letters from Japan – Part 2

Reading this second letter makes me realise that whenever you are travelling, you discover, and describe, your experiences as though you are the first person ever to observe a new culture. On one hand, it comes across as extremely naive, but on the other, it means that even as adults we are capable of child-like wonder as we encounter new things. An exhilarating experience to be cherished.

September 21, 2004

I don't really feel that I did the idiosyncrasies of Japanese culture justice the last time I wrote - I was too wrapped up in talking about where I have been and the weather.

I had the ultimate stereotypical experience the other day in observing the school's Sumo club train. A dusty little tin shed, 10 sweaty, heavy-set Japanese teenagers, one coach and 11 loin cloths. Hmm. The coach very generously asked our male students if they would like to join in, but they all declined, no doubt concerned about how their little chicken legs would look sticking out of the turban-like cloths. My fellow chaperon did decide to have a try, some of which I captured on video, but I must admit, I was not to keen to stick around. Nothing you want to see less than a colleague in a nappy.

I have also been impressed by the myriad rules governing the wearing of shoes in and around Japanese buildings. You take you shoes off at the entrance to the school, and get around in some very attractive, burgundy vinyl slippers. If you want to go into building two, you change your slippers at the door. Slippers off completely for the gym. Pink plastic slippers for the food room and red slippers for the computer room. Slip out of your everyday slippers when you go into the toilet, and put on the comfy green slippers, which are lined up neatly, awaiting your arrival. Oh - and don't forget the brown slippers for the third floor.

Needless to say, it is sometimes hard to keep track.

Speaking of the Gym (was I??). . . saw the funniest PE class ever the other day. Our students were most horrified as I filmed them marching on the spot, walking in circles and performing standing exercise that were straight out of the 1950s. All in time to brass band marching music. I was laughing so hard that I had tears streaming down my face, but of course I couldn't use a tissue because it is very rude to do such things in public. It's okay to fall asleep in a gym full of people while listening to some naff speech (as long as you don't fall over or snore), but don't ever blow your nose in public. Nor is it a good idea to do anything whilst walking. There are little seats located next to vending machines where you may sit and have your drink/ snack/ smoke, but make sure you don't move around - poor form. The only case in which this does not apply is when eating an ice-cream. These, for some reason, are portable fare.

Enough of the funny ha-ha at the expense of Japanese customs. On Thursday night we were taken out to dinner with the staff of our host school for a welcome party. Justin and some of the men were getting stuck into the Sake, playing some hideously dangerous drinking game where you pass the little shot cup to the next person you want to challenge. The Sumo coach was so pissed by 9 o'clock that he fell asleep at the table. Justin can't remember anything from about the second challenge. Luckily, the Vice Principal, Kenji (JFK for short) was getting stuck in too, so no rules of etiquette were broken. The place where we ate was a Yakitori bar, which is like Tapas but Japanese food. Piles of delicious morsels like little chicken and fish skewers, edamame peas, soups, silken tofu, sashimi. . . yum. I even tried - wait for it - raw
chicken! As first I was hesitant, but then I thought, “I can't not taste this because it is way too good a story.” It was cut into quite small pieces, which you dipped in a soy sauce and ginger mix. It actually tasted okay, a bit like raw fish, but in my head I was hearing, "I'm eating raw chicken, I'm eating raw chicken, I'm eating raw chicken, swallow, swallow, swallow," which of course made it very difficult to swallow. I only ate one piece.

Yesterday we went to Nagashima Spa Land, which is a massive Disneyland type amusement park with the biggest roller coaster I have ever seen. It was so big, that the highest parts were in the clouds. (!!!!) Went on heaps of rides with the kids, despite considerable trepidation. Have an hilarious photo of me taken by the camera at the top of one of the big drops on the roller coaster - I look like I am about to scream out a tonsil. Did not feel queasy until right at the end of the day, after going a freaky ride called the 'frisbee'. You can imagine what that looks like (except whatever you are picturing, think 10 times as big and upside down). Hence was not impressed by the chundering lady in the toilet next to me before the bus ride home. Yum.

Must go - the bell has gone. Will write again soon. Hope you are all happy (yay for school holidays!)

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