I've been back in Scotland for a week and I'm in limbo. Alan is incommunicado in Fife and I'm sleeping on the floor in my parents living room. Roll on the days of flat hunting! I can't wait until we get our own place!

Fuji Rock was incredible - and not just for the t-shirt ques. We got to see the Zutons and Snow Patrol interviewed up close and personal (oh and Dirty Pretty Things too but they don't count). It was hysterical to see the people in the Zutons and Snow Patrol looking as bewildered, scared and amazed at the Japanese audiences' questions as I was with the questions put to me in Daito High school...

I don't have proper net access so this is me ending it here...I will update properly as soon as BT get themselves sorted.

London Calling
Well, this is the last night Alan and I will be spending in Senmaya. Yesterday evening we said farewell to Yoronotaki and tonight we will eat our last torinikyu chahan at the yellow Chinese place.

Today I slept while Alan watched Darkman and then we went to Senmaya's Summer Night Music Festival. It was great. We got a lift by one of the boys in the band (Yoshi from the Joes). I took a lot of photos of this crazy frontman who is probably Joe Strummer's number one fan. We drank beeru, ate kebabs and got to watch tiny children be taught how to clap along to punk music. The festival was outdoors in the middle of the countryside and was a terrific way to end our time in Senmaya. Expect photos as soon as I'm home and Danny boy sacrifices half an hour of PC time to let me upload them. Of course they might be somewhat overshadowed by the pics of me and Anthony Kiedis drinking green tea together...

And so to the plan...

Tomorrow morning Alan's Stubborn teachers from his stubborn school will be round to inspect the apartment and no doubt complain. Then we are off to Surisawa where we are stranded for two nights. Then it's the shink to Tokyo, a night in Tokyo and then off to Fuji Rock on Thursday morning to set up the tent as near to the free hot spring as possible! Three days of RRRRROCK will follow where Alan will no doubt get sun burned and come home looking like Dr Zoidberg, I'll drink too much beer and miss the chili peppers and Maire will bring out her Irish dancing outfit and impress the entire festival with her moves...on the Green Stage no doubt.

Then another couple of nights in Tokyo probably reliving our infamous arrival and dancing with prostitutes until 6 in the morning. Then we fly home via London Heathrow (getting to Edinburgh at 17.25pm on the 2nd August for my parentals benefit!)

And let me conclude with the sentiments of Katoh sensei: "Bon voyage! Even though you are not traveling home by ship."

All things..
Well it's over. I've finished my last ever teaching class and in one hour and 35 minutes I will walk out of Ohara Senior High school and never return. And I'm happy. Very happy. I can't wait to be home looking for a job, a flat and re-discovering the delights of Glasgow and Edinburgh.

It will be fantastic to be building up a life that I actually want rather than enduring one that had been deserted by several others before me and provided little opportunities for improvements! My own life,following its own pattern, and not restricted to using the same teapot, the same walk to school, the same herbs, even the same goldfish (jesus christ!) as previous JETs.


*expect a nostalgic post about life in Japan around three weeks after I'm home -when I'm fed up looking for a job and flat and I can't take another bite of macaroni cheese or I'll kill myself.

Goodbye Daito
Today is my last day at Daito High school. It has been hectic up until now but, as the teacher seems to have forgotten about my last ever team teaching class here, it seems things are going to go out with a fizzle.

One thing does cheer me up though...and that is that I've just recieved some written goodbye messages from the 2nd year classes with some rather alarming results. Here are the highlights:

"Dear KATHLEEN. Thank you. See you again. I wish a good fight. Misa."

"Dear kathleen. See you next time!! Bye Bye."

"I'll miss you. I'm looking forward to meeting you."

"Dear: Kathleen. You are funny teacher!! Until now, thank you very much!! See you next again. From: Erika"

"DEAR Kathleen. Yeah!! Yeah!! In vigour. Enjoy your life. From Yuri."

"Dear Kathleen. Please hold out in the future. From Manami"

"Dear Kathleen. You are strange teacher!! until now, thank you very much. You are beautiful teacher. See you next again."

"Dear Kathleen. I'm said!! You liked it. I don't forget talking with you. Please hold out energetically. Ayayna"

And finally...

"DEAR Kathleen. HELLO. I don't forget talking with you!! It was painful more together. Let's hold out together toward a dream. I want to go to Britain someday!! Please maintain nice Buddy indefinitely. I want also to blossom into a beautiful girl like you :-) Happily with the box friend...Good bay. Kei"

Alan's successor has confirmed she will take everything including the DOUBLE BED!

Intellectual Intercourse or failure thereof
"Sexual intercourse began in nineteen sixty-three (Which was rather late for me) between the end of the Chatterley ban and the Beatles' first LP."
- Philip Larkin

Will the insanity never end? It is pouring down relentlessly today and the constant noise of dripping water combined with the frustrating incidents of yesterday are causing me to feel a sort of restless impatience that only people stuck unwillingly in the middle of nothingness* for twelve months will understand.

And so to yesterday...

A certain school are constantly outdoing themselves in their race to be the most unreasonable, stubborn and stupid workplace in Iwate. This (and other situations like it) is why ALTs in Japan need a union. It would be ridiculous of me to get into the nitty gritty details here and bore you into (at the very least) a coma but hopefully several well placed paragraphs will be enough.

A teacher at stubborn school organised our flight after lying to us and saying we weren't allowed to do it ourselves. This teacher then passed on the information to my school. However, the information Alan recieves from this teacher is always different from the information my school recieves. These differences are sufficient to cause complications for us resulting in the possibility that we don't get the same flight home. However, when Alan questions the teacher about this she is stubborn, evasive and changes the subject (usually round to a rather baffling and incoherent attempt to criticise him about something unrelated).

The same teacher last week told Alan that a male English teacher would be coming to look at the flat on Monday. Alan naturally assumed this meant some sort of check that all was in order and there was no permanent damage or any big jobs to be done to the place before we leave. When the male teacher showed up (a day late, and this is Japan!) he said he didn't need to look around the place all he wanted was a list of stuff that is in the apartment so he knows what he needs to transport to the rubbish dump (or into a warehouse where Stubborn School keeps all the Ikea-style riches it plunders from unwitting JETs).

Two problems emerge from this request. The first is that Alan has recieved no reply from his successor so has no idea what objects she will desire and which need to be disposed of. The second is that all these objects belong to Alan and he is (hopefully) selling them to his successor and this in no way is any business of the Stubborn School whatsoever. When Alan asked exactly why the Stubborn School were treating him in this way when other ALTs have not received the same invasion of privacy the male teacher replied that it was because Alan's desk is "sometimes untidy" at school so "we cannot trust that you will leave the apartment clear". Lets take this statement in two parts...

1. The apartment isn't meant to be clear! The furniture is traditionally bought by the current ALTs successor and until Alan's successor emails him and requests otherwise it is reasonable to assume that this will be the case.

2. Every teacher's desk in every school I have ever encountered (anal clean freaks and those with OCD aside) in schools in Japan is untidy. It is what you get when you have bundles of marking to do, textbooks to keep a hold of, worksheets to prepare etc. In fact it is the natural order of things for a teacher! And if you want to start delving into more complicated reasons for it...how about the fact that teachers here aren't given a classroom as their own (which would likely have storage space, shelves, cupboards etc) instead they all share a crowded, and 90% of the time dirty, office). The tidiness level of your desk can't sanely be suggested to reflect your level of respect for your successor!

When these opinions were expressed to the male teacher and the unreasonableness of Stubborn School's request made clear to him he revealed what I believe to be the key reason for the visit. This reason is the result of a mixture of institutionalised racism, ingrained sexism, cultural backwardness and a severe and desperate superiority complex that Stubborn School exhibits strongly in every area of its existence. And the reason?


In otherwords...Stubborn School don't even want to give Alan's successor the choice of buying our double bed from us because in their opinion it will encourage her to lead an open, lurid, outrageous, sex-filled existence bringing shame upon the school.

There was no sexual revolution in Japan and it shows.

*I acknowledge this is a slight exaggeration...there have been many ESCAPE FROM IWATE experiences that have made this year worthwhile as well as a considerable amount of nice day-to-day stuff in Iwate itself. However, the overwhelming feeling is one of being stuck nowhere with nothing to do but eat cheeseballs.

22 days until I'm home
What a weird weekend.

On Friday night I went with Alan to my Sayonara Eikaiwa Dinner. It was at the French restaurant in Senmaya which does great food...it is famous in Iwate apparently and the chef/owner has been on tv and won tons of awards. Anyway there wasn't much French food on the menu...it was more a mixture of Japanese and Italian but who cares when it tastes brilliant?! The dinner was strange for me...it was the last time I'll be seeing the people from my eikaiwa and I wasn't really sure how to feel. The eikaiwa has not really felt right since Group D left and I've taken it on my own. But still spending an hour and a half once a week with the eikaiwa people meant I couldn't feel nothing when we said goodbye outside the restaurant. So instead I felt a tinge of sadness mixed with relief that I will never have to sit through another hour and a half where only about ten minutes of real work gets done and the rest of the time the people around me gossip in Japanese!

What made the sadness start to over take the relief as I was walking away was the fact that I might never see Yuko's kids again.I've only met them a few times over the last couple of months but they are without a doubt the best thing about Japan. In the restaurant Manae was eating ice cream. She pointed to it and said "ice". I thought she was meaning to say ice cream so corrected her. But a few seconds (and a lot of stirring later) and Manae was showing me her (now liquid) ice cream and saying "juice". What a genius!

Later on Friday night we met up with Jason for some karaoke where him and Alan showed off their ability to sing while I slaughtered a Carol King song before retreating into my corner to drink more beer.

Saturday was spent cleaning the apartment, including getting the bogging mould off the walls. It was an exhausting 12hour long effort that still isn't finished. Still it is nice to be actively doing things geared towards going home! Sunday was more cleaning in the morning and then we headed to Morioka. We met up with Maire, Paul and Maddy for some Spanish beer, fake pizza and four hours of karaoke. I've never spent so long at karaoke and to my surprise I've discovered that it just gets better and better the longer you do it for! I unfortunately have several songs still spinning around in my head including 9to5, Backstreet Boys, the Sesame Street theme tune and Informer...

The next morning we were back in the room that haunts my nightmares...a room that last time was so roasting hot that I felt like fainting, vomiting and dying all at once. This time it was just a normal room although yet again we were made to stand in ridiculous lines in an over-complicated effort to turn the handing out of a piece of paper into a significant and momentous event. The highlights were ALTs refusing to bow, ALTs too dazed (with drink, drugs, fear, sleepiness?) to respond when their name is called, and ALTs throwing the contents of the Iwate Friendship Ambassador box onto the floor in disgust! Ah, happy days. I'd be lying if I said it didn't feel a little bit nice to see some ALTs get their certificates... especially the ones who have stuck it out for three years (through luck in getting a good placement or insanity?)

Lunch followed which was a case of staring round a room full of people, 90per cent of whom are no less freaky than they were a year ago. I will definitely miss some people and I realised there are a few people I really regret not getting to know better while I had the chance. Still the overwhelming feeling when leaving the lunch was a sense of relief. It is really winding down. Eight more days of school and I'm done. I can return to real life with all it's good and bad stuff. I can keep in touch with the cool people and start the therapy to get me over encountering the not-so-cool people.

We followed the lunch up with a trip to Morioka Zoo. The zoo was much bigger than I'd imagined and I was impressed by the bears and the badgers. The baby lions were cool but we couldn't get a good view of them. The weather was muggy, humid and drizzling - not the best combination when you are suffering from lack of sleep and a bit of a hangover! After the zoo we had sushi and Jason kindly drove us all the way to our front door. A conversation with my mum about time differences and an episode of Sopranos later (Pussy is dead!) and the weekend was over.

Do you like?
Today a teacher asked me if I was cold because I was wearing a t-shirt and it was cloudy outside. I had a struggle restraining myself from shouting swear words mingled with "It's 28 degrees and only 8am you freak!" Is this a case of someone trusting what they see more than what they feel: clouds = long sleeves, smile=happy, Johnny Depp=good film? Well it could be, except that several other logic-free encounters have left me thinking it is more a case of someone trusting what they are told more than what they feel.

Koromoge which I mentioned at the start of this month (although not by name) is a good example of this: 1st of June= summer = summer clothes...never mind how you actually feel at the start of June, it is summer, END OF STORY. There is also a swimming season so all of you ridiculously insane people who thought it was really nice and hot around Golden Week and where better to be than dunking yourself in the ocean...well you were WRONG. Swimming season doesn't start until July. More on Japan's severely rigid observation of seasons can be found here http://www.pikerpress.com/article.cfm?form.id=4, but here is a highlight from that page:
"Trains are heated regardless of the external temperature, which means sauna- like conditions for commuters during late spring and early autumn, and
office heating doesn't come on until November 1st, even if it's butt-
freezingly cold in October."

What the above quote doesn't detail is the fact that office heating consists of a massive dalek which glows orange causing the people close to it to faint and sleep all day and those more than ten feet from it are left to suffer the continuous agony of numb fingers and snow-wet socks.

under the chair
I've had way more than my typical share of interactions with Japanese kids lately (SHS students don't count despite their relentless efforts to display all things cute and juvenile in their personal space* - they are just too old!) Anyway last Wednesday through Saturday it feels like all I did was play Fruit Basket, Hot or Cold, Simon Says and talk about the Easter Bunny and my friend Hamish, the 40 year old bagpiper. I was at Surisawa Elementary school Wed - Fri where I taught every single grade including giving the new 1st grade my self introduction (the Scottish Flag went down well- they tried to wear it, hide under it, cuddle it, stroke it and eat it).

Being back at the elementary school made me realise just how different my experience in Japan might have been had I been teaching rooms full of cuteness (that doesn't emanate from pencil cases and keyrings but from the students themselves) every day. Still at least I had the opportunity to visit the elementary a few times. At the risk of sounding like a line out of Judging Amy...I am going to say that teaching in the elementary has given me some of my best experiences in Japan.

On Saturday I was out of bed by 6.30am and off to Sarisawa Community Centre for two more elementary classes. This time I was teaching with Yuko and things were very relaxed. I had a great time showing the kids photos of my cats and my family. After three hours I was ready to collapse though! Lunch followed in a tatami room that had a stuffed bear in the corner.

On Monday I had eikaiwa and Yuko turned up with her two daughters. She had baked me a birthday cake and her daughters had made me birthday cards. I played a game devised by Manae (Yuko's oldest daughter who is 7) which revolved around me finding a pink ball of fluff that she hid...at one point I gave up and said "Where is it?" and Manae, without hesitation, replied "Under the chair." This was utterly amazing...I have taught 2nd grade senior high school students prepositions with the aid of pictures and they still struggle to remember it the next week. Manae is my new favourite person. Her little sister (nearly 4 years old) had even picked up the words for mouth, pocket and door within fifteen minutes of the game.

So I left my eikaiwa feeling happy for once - between munching cake and playing games I hadn't managed to teach any of the adults a thing though!

*school bags, pencil cases, desk, cubby holes, bikes and mopeds are all typically adorned with stickers of Marie from Aristocats, keyrings of Stitch and other such Disney junk.

Osaka blues
"I wish I had been placed in Osaka" is tantamount to saying "I wish I was teaching English anywhere but Japan." Osaka is not Japan. There are some similarities, granted, but they are almost all things you would find somewhere else in Asia if you looked. Chopsticks, noodles, squiggly symbols that make no sense to me, atrocious hair styles and clashing clothing. Osaka, unlike anywhere else in Japan, has a proper live music scene with almost every second person under 35 carrying a guitar case on their back. Osaka has dodgy areas where guys (whose hair is ginger through choice!)sell pirate DVDs on street corners...not exactly the Barras but it's something! Osaka feels like Asia. It doesn't feel like Japan. I could live there happily. But there is no point dwelling on that now. In exactly seven weeks I will be heading to Narita airport bound for home.

So Osaka will have to remain a holiday memory. But at least it will be a good one!

After enduring the back and forth from both our schools as to whether taking three days of paid holiday was a good idea or pretty much proof that Scots are in league with the devil (in fact I'm sure in Alan's school at least two teachers are now in constant hysterics - not the funny kind- as a result of him pointing out to them that their made-up rules didn't apply to him and besides that were feckin ridiculous) , we eventually set off last Wednesday. After a big journey which had us hopping off one train and onto another with only seconds to spare we eventually emerged into the striking sunlight and enveloping heat of Osaka. We staggered around in several chaotic, un-purposeful circles before finding a hotel. However, the hotel had decided that it would open at 4pm so we were forced back out of the shade in search of a beer. Eventually, one beer later, we were in the hotel and the view from the 13th floor was fantastic. We opened the suicide-aiding window and let in a breeze (that most definitely hadn't reached ground level) which billowed the curtains and took the edge off the sunlight's harshness.

That evening was spent on a quest for an Irish pub (the oldest in Japan apparently). When the pub was eventually found it was all but empty and completely devoid of atmosphere. Fortunately the Arctic Monkeys* album and a rather tasty hamburger made up for things! We also found time to go up in a bright red ferris wheel that was perched on the top of a department store.

Thursday was a day of contrasts. First up was a visit to Osaka-jo, the castle. It was big, impressive and stuck in the centre of a nice park so all was well with the world. After contemplation of yet another view of Osaka we worked our way down about eight floors on the inside - decked out museum style with old helmets and tapestries as well as a replica golden tea room. Down on the ground again and a brief meander through some souvenir shops made a can of beer a necessity! We sat looking at a pond with giant goldfish who seemed to be trying to ape evolution and crawl out of the water.

Next was Osaka's Aquarium - Kaiyukan. It was probably the best tenner I've ever spent that didn't involve guitars or Blackalicious. From beginning to end it was thrilling - there was none of that boredom you start to feel after you have seen one multi-coloured fish too many. The first tank you see is tube shaped and you get to walk through the tube with fish swimming over your head. That in itself was almost worth the ten pounds. Next came the otters, the sea otters, the seals, the sea lions, the penguins, all of which you could see on different levels - so both on land and under water. The aquarium was so quiet that we managed to sit beside the dolphin tank for about ten minutes undisturbed. At various moments it felt like the dolphins were the ones looking at us. Then came the giant centre tank whic h had 5,400 tonnes of water in it, oh and a whale shark!We also happened across some giant spider crabs in mid-dual, sea turtles, a lion's mane jellyfish, a giant salamander, a spotted eagle ray and a sun fish! I'd go back this minute if I could!

After the aquarium me and Alan braved the second largest Ferris Wheel in the world (2nd to the London Eye) for yet another Osaka view...this one was at night and gave us a glittering view of Tempozan Harbour Village as well as Osaka's sprawling self. Up in the big wheel I took delight in jumping from one side to the other of our carriage causing Alan to have a mini nervous breakdown! Still I was impressed by how he somehow managed to tell me nicely to stop rather than the expected and more appropriate reaction of screaming obscenities and death threats. That night we made our way to Dotonbori where we saw the legendary original motorised giant crab outside the Kani Doraku restaurant (and several replicas dotted about further down the street). We also saw the less remarkable life sized, moving, costumed drummer (I didn't get it). We ate ramen in the spitting rain at a fantastic outdoor place which had tatami platforms.

The next day was spent fully on recovery from our exertions the day before. We wandered to Amerikamura where I was delighted to see a distinct absence of tourists and virtually no other foreigners. Despite it's name this area is not geared towards gaijin desperate for a MacDonalds (although there is one there if it takes your fancy). Instead, Amerikamura is for young Japanese people to splash out on trendy (if ridiculous)clothing, accessories, music and guitars. It also has a significant number of un-Japanesy pubs, bars, live music venues and clubs (as well as a load of Love Hotels). After a bewildering but engaging wander through clothes and gadget shops that made me feel ancient we stopped at a cafe for a drink. I was delighted that it served Corona and that the front was opened up so we were all but sitting outside. Two Coronas and a chat to a techno DJ later and we were wandering the streets again attempting to find Absinthe (a bar that has copies of Kansai Time Out, the English guide to what's going on). Finding Absinthe and some English magazines for the Kansai area we decided the only appropriate thing to do now was to have a Guinness. Two pints later and we were ready for some dinner and live music.

We headed to Savannah which promised live Jazz and Blues as well as FOOD. The food was great, the Coronas were great, even the jazz was great for as long as it lasted...but then the salsa dancers moved in and it was time for us to go. After a brief sojourn at the Irish pub we stumbled off back to the hotel.

The next day, feeling guilty at our lack of activity (other than drinking and relaxing) we headed to the Human Rights Museum for a dose of real life. After a couple of hours of exhibitions featuring how every single minority group in Japan is/has been treated like shit we were ready to indulge once more in a meal and a drink. We had Thai curry and then went to the Cellar bar for some live music...this consisted of more versions of the Beatles "Yesterday" than could ever be considered healthy. It was fun though. The obligatory Love Hotel stay followed (there is no point to being in Japan unless you visit these, they are remarkable in that every room, in every hotel, in every entertainment district, in every city is different). This one had two tatami rooms, frosted glass with naked ladies on it, two televisions, a massive shower and bath and I stole a yukata.

And that act of crime brings the tale of the Osaka adventure to an end.

*emmm....being exiled in Japan I'd never heard them before...although I had read a lot of stuff that made me sure I'd hate them...but to be honest before I knew who they were (about 6 songs in) I was loving them. They reminded me of Graham Coxon and the Libertines. Maybe I should keep this as my guilty secret...but blogging it seemed like the right thing to do. Sharing my confusion might help!


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