This weekend I decided to go visit Ben, another English ALT who lives in Shiga Pref. on the edge of Lake Biwa (Biwako) in Otsu City. It was great to see him, and to be able to make sarcastic comments without fear of offending (a glut of angry and insulted faces in my first month here made me realise that this is probably a particularly British pastime).

Friday night was relaxing in a local bar, Otsu is just a very chilled out place compared to Wakayama. Saturday, well, I visited another temple: 石山寺 (Ishiyamadera - Stone Mountain Temple) the Hondou, or Main Temple of which, apart from being the oldest building in Japan, is also where Lady Murusaki wrote 'The Tale of Genji' - try to remember this in case it comes up in a Pub Quiz. You might be wondering if I'm temple fixated. I have about 400 photos took in temples for god's (Buddha's) sake! But the thing is, they're such cool places to be, all emanating an infinitely more spiritual feeling then I've ever really enjoyed whilst wandering round a Christian place of worship. They look lovely too, so more photos I'm afraid:

This is the best Ramen I have ever eaten in Japan mainly because it was actually as spicy as advertised, which seldom happens (not related to the temple, but I ate it in Otsu):

This is a night view from Ben's apartment balcony. Those bright arcs visible halfway down are the spray from a huge fountain pumping out of Lake Biwa. This is also not related to temples - what am I playing at?

Here you go, a temple photo. This was through the gate to a closed-off section of garden. Probably the monks wanted to keep it for themselves:

This looks like a remake of the movie Dolls with pensioners:

Always ready to fuck about in religious buildings, Ben wastes no time in posing for the token sight gag photo:

This is my favourite photo out of those I took. After I finish this entry I'm gonna go see if I can flog it to Lonely Planet:

Later on that Saturday we both went into Kyoto, only 20 minutes away from Ben's place. A 'few drinks' turned into a bizarre all-nighter, culmanating with me spending the whole of Sunday alone in the apartment of someone I only just met and who wasn't actually in the apartment with me. For hours I was thinking of the title of that Air song 'Alone in Kyoto' and then couldn't get it out of my bloody head. (Head was literally bloody - I had cut it open on a karaoke booth door handle earlier in the evening - stupid bastard). Thought I'd never get back to Wakayama, but I did - at 1am Monday, after getting extremely lost and panicky in Osaka.

Must study more Kanji.


No, it's no good. I still can't hear a thing apart from a perpetual ringing. Although I was interested to discover that this can be relieved by listening to loud music on headphones. A hair of the dog sort of thing.


Today was a wonderful day, despite shaky, self-inflicted ill beginnings.

8:48 and I'm huddled in a luggage rack in the smoking carriage of the Wakayama - Kyoto express trying not to vomit on Jeff's legs and being wholly unable to disentangle the wires on my earphones. Even in this kind of state I was pleasantly surprised to find myself warmed by the colours of the low summer sun gilding over the ubiquitous cedared hills of rural Kansai, the trees meeting it's glow with a show of muted greens and browns. The scene was almost too self-conciously Autumnal and I might have thought further about this had the low-rise greyness and powerlines of Osaka not suddenly appeared in my view. That's what you get whilst trying to enjoy scenery at 130MPH I guess.

Eventually Kyoto, and after a brief connecting journey on the tube, Ginkakuji. Ginkakuji is a temple almost as famous as Kinkakujin although having visited both I think I prefer Ginkakuji. This may or may not be because I visited Ginkakuji in Autumn, a beautiful season in Kyoto (as is Spring, I'm told) and Kinkakujin in Summer. Ah, enough chatter, pictures tell better stories than I do. This is Ginkakuji:

It's easy to stare in wonder at the Maple trees and their gradual undressing, whilst neglecting to spare a moments thought for the guy whose gonna have to rake all these up:

This imaginary raking guy probably thinks I'm crazy. That's not a photo opportunity, that's more work for me godammit!:

I guess I should really include a shot of those leaves before their metamorphisis into mulch. And raking:

The serenity of this scene almost made up for my disappointment that no ninja leapt out:

It's true, I'm a sucker for 'sunlight through branches' type shots:

All in I took 93 photographs whilst also finding time to just stand and feel and look and enjoy. I won't post all of them of course, that would be ridiculous (and also some of them are shit). I will add just one more though, if only to show the contrast between how we spent our day and how we spent our evening in Osaka (just how many trains did we catch?).

After I took this I got told not to take any more shots - not very rock 'n' roll is it? Ah yes, Guitar Wolf. Without doubt the loudest gig I have ever been to. Ever. I can't hear properly at all, even now. I also have a slight black-eye. Cool.


Struck by an incredible and overwhelming desire to tidy I did just that, whirling about the apartment attempting to impose some semblance of order. Vacuuming, dusting, washing, drying, sewing (yes, sewing) and finally paper shredding. Only later did I realise that I had, in my need for a complete purge, shredded all my Japanese wage slips - the only things that could have avoided what will now be lenghty disputes between me and the Inland Revenue on my return to England. Oh dear.

Finally decided to ask the Doctor who's administering all these inoculations to me whether it was ok to drink after having had jabs. He laughed nervously and said 'すこし’ which in this context means 'a little'. He said this several times, and looked fairly serious. Ah, I thought, that explains why I've been practically paralysed on Saturday mornings these past few weeks.


Guitar Wolf Ticket

What you see here limited but loyal readership, is a ticket. Not just any ticket though. Oh no. This glorious piece of paper is my passage into Club Quattro in Osaka on Saturday night when a certain Japanese band will no doubt leave my ears ringing and a vacant smile hanging from my lips. Yes, I understand your jealousy (?) cos it's not everday you get to see 'Japanese Greatest "JET" Rock 'N' Roll Band' live is it?


Oh God! I just spilt lavender air freshener chemical all over my arm and intensive scrubbing has not removed it's presence. Now I'm faced with the prospect of three 3rd year lessons tomorrow smelling like I imagine Oscar Wilde might have done.

This morning I woke up to glorious sunshine and strolled out onto the balcony topless in celebration. Immediately after being noticed by a dear old woman hobbling around in circles (exercise?) who promptly stood stock still and stared at my semi nakedness with fear in her eyes I myself noticed a small drama playing itself out upon the stage of the park beside my apartment block. Within this park is a large jungle gym (which can be seen in the photo featured in this post) and a particularly slippery slide (I've tested it out on several drunken occasions). It seems as though the council had decided the equipment needed some maintenence as I sat and watched for half an hour as a council worker attempted to paint the actual slope of the slide with very little luck. There he was, gamely striding up the slope, bucket of paint in hand, only to pause midway for several seconds and then slip rapidly back down, paint sloshing uncontrollably.
After making a coffee I returned to the balcony to see he had ingeniously tied a small ladder to the top of the slide and was now walking back up to a point where he could grab the bottommost rung of said ladder. All was well and good for about a minute until his feet slid slowly backwards whilst his one free arm, and the rest of his body, stayed affixed to the ladder. I left him hanging at a precarious 70º angle as I had to set off to work.

When I got home this evening I saw that the slide has been completely painted - he managed somehow, good man. Perhaps there's a moral in all this but I'm afraid I'm too dumb to extract it.


I went to the video store - it seems I've watched all available Miyazaki Ghibli movies. What do I watch now? Any suggestions? I guess I need the DVD to have 英語字幕 (English subtitles). Hayato, I'm counting on you.


A new school today, my third and final before I begin rotating from the start again - 東中学校 (Higashi Junior School). This school is out of town and placed somewhat randomly in the middle of a vast network of paddy fields and although only a 15 minute journey by local train it feels a million miles away from the built up busyness of downtown Wakayama City.
I seem to have struck on a good geographical cross-section with the three schools I have been allocated and the personality of each appears to be influenced by it's immediate surroundings.
The first school was Kusumi which was way across the Kinokawa River up on top of a mountain. The kids here were for the most part wild and fun but barely academic and were essentially a tough bunch on which to cut my teaching teeth. Next I was spoiled with Joto, a school smack in the middle of the city. The kids (and staff) here were for the most part studious, bookish and quiet. The asshole rebellious kids here were not even close in their anarchy to the least disruptive elements at Kusumi although they obviously thought they were reaching new ground in the 'I couldn't give a fuck about learning English' attitude camp. How I laughed.
And now Higashi. It's early days for me to generalise the student body but I can already tell it's different. The kids are shy, and although their English ability is clearly very good - at least in terms of writing and reading - they are reluctant to speak. The staff too are particularly genial, tremendously laid back in their acceptance and attitude towards my newness and foreigness, yet are also slow to speak. Although having said that I had a great albeit brief chat with the music teacher who looks uncannily like Jerry Garcia.

I'm enjoying my job more and more.


Where does all the time go eh? I'm asking this because I just thought it, and then I wondered why I thought it and then realised that the thought itself had maybe gone the way all this time's possibly going.

Where does all the time go? It doesn't go anywhere - it's time. How can it go anywhere? It goes to the past Pik. The past? Where's that gone? The past Pik. Well where's that? Why do we think of these stupid things to say like 'Where does all the time go' when we really mean something like 'My god! I'm getting older by the second and I haven't done any of the things I planned on doing'?
Also, 'What's the sound of one hand clapping?' What? You can't clap with one fucking hand!
'If a tree fell in the forest, and no one was there to hear it, would it make a sound? It would make sound waves, but since you need a cochlea and all that other stuff in your ear to convert soundwaves into actual sound, it wouldn't sound like anything unless there was an ear - or pair of ears, say on a squirrel or some foraging forest dwelling creature, maybe a monkey, after all, this esoteric tree has no specific geographic location - to hear it.

This post was totally arbitrary - sorry to waste your time.


So I find myself backdating posts yet again, in an effort to convince those people who despite my utter rubbishness remain my good friends, that I am not in fact dead, or worse. Very often there are no entries because, although I have actually written one, I have fallen asleep...ok, passed out, before I managed to press 'publish'. I then wake up the following day under the impression that my blog is up to date and that, in a similiar scenario, I have returned all those emails and I have called my Mother. The McDonalds post below is a case in point: I just logged on and found it saved as a draft.
Also, I'm awash in a sea of strange words and symbols and I'm slowly being overwhelmed. I'm desperately trying to get a grip on the Japanese language and I spend inordinate amounts of time studying it, only to find I have memorised maybe one kanji. Still, it's a kanji I didn't know before, even if it does mean 'Hades' and how often does that come up in conversation?


I ventured into McDonalds today. I needed a fix, and I got it, as well as cholesterol, salt and some dirty looks from sullen Japanese teenagers. What fun!
Half way through the fries, which seem to be refreshingly hot over here - if McDonalds fries can ever truly be said to be refreshing - I noticed this on the 'sanitary' paper doily they slap on the base of your tray.
It may just be me, but the BigMac wasn't the only thing that left a nasty taste in my mouth. A Ronald McDonald hand being tenderly gripped by some innocent toddler about to be led into a lifetime of Happy Meals and pre-mix Fanta? What!? Is this image supposed to evoke feelings in me of tenderness and warmth for the savvy Mcmarketing ghouls and their corporate taskmasters? All this picture did - 'World Childrens Day' or not (notably McDonalds own 'World Childrens Day' - hardly endorsed by UNICEF) - was rekindle my childhood fear of clowns and put me in mind of peadophiles.

I would be pleased with my stance on unethical corporate practices where it not inevitable I'll be back in McDonalds the very next time I have a hangover on a Saturday morning. So it goes.


Rabies shots hurt!

I mentioned this ongoing programme of innoculations in a previous post and rest assured it's still going strong. Now hopefully resilient to the myriad attacks from foam-spewing, red-eyed dogs I'm expecting anytime soon, being currently unable to sleep on my right side is a relatively small price to pay. ¥10,500 however, is not.

Wish I'd bought some fireworks tonight. Haven't actually bought fireworks on Bonfire Night for the last 28 years but I'm starting to suspect that I've entered the 'idealising native country' stage of culture shock. Actually, I think it's just a problem with me. I've always been the same with everything, especially relationships - I only ever really want and appreciate something when I don't have it anymore. It's a fucking curse, I tell you.

How did I get onto this? Blogs are odd things aren't they? Who am I talking to?


It's been a rather unassuming Thursday to be honest, despite the fact that the world now faces another 4 years of George W Bush. WTF? How can this happen? Crazy.


It's "Culture Day'. No work. Have bought much manga and rented many Studio Ghibli DVD's and am now absorbing culture, albeit of the popular variety. Having a great time. Weather's fantastic. Say hello to Mum. Wish you were here.


The times between lessons - those ten minute frenzies of attempting to slip off to a hidden corner to smoke a crafty cigarette without being followed by an entourage of 14 year olds - are often the most rewarding. At my latest school there's this kid who's name is unfortunately lost to me amid an endless morass of Japanese monikers (I have, after all, over 1500 students to teach) but remains in my mind constantly. He's actually 'special needs' but is integrated into the school proper as his parents have requested it to be this way.
As far as I can make out he's autistic and it just so happens that his 'Rain Man' type ability is in English. He's very good at remembering English. Remembering but not understanding. Thus we have sentences such as; 'Welcome, I'm happy to think to look at the big dog.' and 'I'm so sorry, interesting sandwich eating funny coffee.' The particles are present, the English is superb, as is the pronunciation, yet it still feels as though I spend every lunch hour chatting with Yoda. A Yoda who also insists on touching my crotch, and not just with the Force.
Recently I have been showing him photos on my laptop - pictures of London and friends and what not - and to each he makes a comment such as 'Please come in' or 'You're welcome' or 'Piano' (Piano!? It was a photo of a baby).
I like this guy a lot and I respect his superb memory, I only wish the rest of the students could remember more than just 'Hello' and 'Goodbye' and 'I don't know'. This little guy lets me know how much they could have learnt if only they had listened and also serves as a reminder to me of how fucked up my Japanese must sound to native speakers, like the other day when, in the local convenience store, I found I had insufficient funds for my purchase. Embarrased and perturbed I spouted 'Watashi wa (I, me), en (yen, ¥, money, cash) nai (not) sumimasen (excuse me, I'm sorry) chotto matte (wait a minute)" and then ran out of the shop. What a great fucking sentence that was.


Time was when Marks and Spencer was a (somewhat frumpish?) byword for quality in British clothing. Not so any more says I, at least if these damn towelling socks I purchased from there in bulk before I left are anything to go by.
Thoroughly mystified as to where all this odd blue fluff strewn across the tatami was actually coming from I found the source, a week or so into my little investigation, to be these bloody socks of mine. This stuff is everywhere I tell you. I have even taught lessons with the stuff in my hair for Christ's sake! Obsessive laundering of said garments is apparently to little avail - their capacity for generating this pesky matter is beyond the ken of even Stephen Hawking I'll warrant (particularly because I imagine he has very little need for socks, towelling or otherwise). All this because I read some crazy article somewhere about the relative discomfort of Japanese made socks. What bollocks! The problem is not Messrs Marks and Spencer's, it's mine, for swallowing such shite. And for choosing towelling.

Imagine writing a whole entry about socks.