I love the few days I get to teach at elementary schools.

Today I was at Yoshihara Branch school, a very small place with a nice wooden charm about it - not at all like many school buildings I've seen in Japan. The kids are of course, fantastic. They respond to everything, in the way that small kids do, with energy and wit and ready comprehension, but even more so when they're responding to something as odd and different as a gaijin like me.
As always I ate lunch with the kids and was served a dish by a concerned looking teacher. 'Kujira daijyobu?" she kept saying. I looked at the plate. 'Yeah, I guess so'. Meanwhile my memory was riffing on some Japanese trivia I'd once read:

"Gojira, or 'Godzilla' in English, is an amalgam of the Japanese words for 'Gorilla' and 'Whale'."

So I discern that I'm being being served either a majestic endangered primate or a majestic endangered sea-going mammal. Common sense ruled for the latter. I ate it. With all eyes on me. In a cruel twist of irony I had in fact been surfing the website of the IWC the night before and wondered what the commission chairman would make of my current mastication. I got it down and declined seconds. More for the kids, I reasoned.

Whale in belly I played dodgeball under an unforgiving sun which brought mosquitoes in it's wake and read 'The Very Hungry Caterpillar' - a book I grew up reading - out loud several times. Then I fielded questions about pets, my favourite type of car, the length of my 'chinko' and if I liked strawberries.

I love Japanese elementary schools.

Why this pigeon decided to roost here, of all places, is beyond me. This loudhailer is very much active, and even without that there doesn't seem to be much headroom available:


Allowed myself a little indulgent chuckle at some recent news. RonRon (or it might be Futa - I'm unsure) the red (or lesser) panda has apparently taken to strolling around his enclosure at Yokohama (or it might be somewhere else - truly, the various reports have confused me) on his back legs ‘just like a human’ it says here. A photo printed in today’s スポーツニッポン (Sports Nippon) had me giggling at my staffroom desk. I reproduce it here - the photo, not the giggling:

RonRon/Futa, on the left there - maybe, might not be him at all -, I find particularly amusing. Bit of the Hoth Wamper about him. His playmate, name withheld, appears to be dropping a potato in response to, presumably, the paparazzo’s flash.

I’m reliably informed that red pandas have often been known to have a bit of a morning constitutional in the bipedal manner although not quite as consistently and naturally as Futa a.k.a. RonRon sets about it. Looking forward to further coverage of his capers. Perhaps he will soon don a rather fetching smoking jacket and pad about the zoo enjoying the other animals on display, pausing briefly at the chimpanzee enclosure to partake of a little rough shag from an exquisitely scrimshawed whalebone pipe. He may even get broadband at some point and engage in a Google vanity search in which case it’s not inconceivable that he could end up looking at this very page.

In other news, I have just now watched a woman apply a sanitary pad to herself in the park below my balcony. I kid you not. Half hoped a red panda would sidle up from behind and goose her.


No rain. Sun and a tease of humidity. At lunchtime I pocketed onigiri and headed for a stroll out along paddy fields and brown river waters. So many turtles. A hundred or so. Some basking, others pecking at the floating corpses of large dead fish - one of which looked exactly like it had been surprised to death. I like turtles. I like surprised looking dead fish too.

In the afternoon, the Japanese, Japanese teacher came to talk to me. She showed me some kanji stroke order. She asked me about Shihomi, my girlfriend and then taught me the kanji for 'passion', perhaps a little off the mark but appreciated anyway. She told me to study hard, wished me luck and then told me that even though she had studied English for almost 10 years, she couldn't speak it at all. I wondered if she might be hustling me and had in fact read this blog's previous entry.

She spoke only in Japanese. I understood.

This has been a peak.

Tomorrow - a fearful visit to the dentist and then Kyoto. I like turtles but I love Kyoto.


A listless, pointless day. Another eight hours sat hunched at a desk in a staffroom at a school I don't particularly like. Despite being contractually obliged to involve me in four lessons a day I'm lucky to get more than two at this place. The kids refer to me as gaijin all day. Foreigner, outsider. Whatever. Not their fault they don't know my name - they never see me.
There are exceptions, of course, but this school has constantly made me feel small. There seems to be an assumption that because I'm nowhere near fluent in Japanese it follows that I'm incapable of achieving anything.
Thus the new head of English asking me to come in early so she could do my photocopying for me, despite the fact I worked at the school well before she rotated in and despite the fact that Japanese photocopiers are, surprisingly enough, just like English ones.
Hence the laughter when the deputy head announced in the morning meeting that he would have me make a speech in Japanese. He announced this in Japanese assuming I didn't understand. I did.
Hence the surprised exclamations when it is discovered that my girlfriend is Japanese. 'Really!?' Yes, really, I've taken one of your women and you're not getting her back. We're going to procreate and spawn a demon breed of halflings who'll overrun the country, taking your jobs, building ghettos and eventually insisting on the right to vote.

There are sheets I must fill in every day and send to my supervisor at City Hall at the end of every month. At this school the dates and my name are written in for me and the sheet explained in detail. Thanks. My name had briefly eluded me. So kind of you.

Japanese is I'm told, despite following rigid grammatical rules, one of the most difficult languages in the world. English ranks as one of the easiest. Fact. Apparently.
I've studied Japanese for 6 months and now I just about know what's going on. Most Japanese people study English as a compulsory subject for at least six years and yet most seem unable to make a complete English sentence. This is not a criticism, just an observation.

Give me a fucking break. I'm tired of being patronised by not just Japanese people but other 'gaijin' too. We all have to start somewhere, let's not forget that.

Fuck. This is nonsense. A bad day I let get worse. Right now I'm hating the world and it's hating me back and all I really wanted to do was talk, just talk to someone, anyone, in a language I can express myself in. Maybe even, god forbid, get a hug.

There's not enough beer in all the convenience stores of Japan to make it right tonight.

This post has been a trough. Tomorrow there may be a peak. Also, it may rain.


19th October 1924 - 17th May 2005

Depending on which time zone all three of you reading this are in, my granddad died this morning or yesterday. Either way, he’s gone now.

I wonder what he thought about during the moments prior in his Louis body diseased mind. I like to think it allowed him some clarity to order his thoughts and remember whatever he wanted to.

Did he remember writing all those letters, at least one a week, full of jokes and tiny cartoon drawings which now fill two suitcases in an attic miles from here?

Now he has no memories and now we don’t have him.

Three weeks ago I wrote him a letter that I knew he’d never read. It’ll be placed next to him or in his pocket before the lid goes on, I’m told. Writing that letter was a strange and difficult thing. All past tense; a letter to a dead man I knew was alive, drinking glucose solutions in an NHS bed in Northern England. That letter said all I needed to say and yet really, it didn’t say anything at all.

I loved that man so much.

Just take it easy now, Granddad.


Board Pictionary is a great way of reviewing vocabulary, particularly nouns, and is especially useful when no other ideas for a lesson plan are forthcoming. It can also however, spell disaster for the students.
Many Japanese kids seem to be great little artists and are constantly doodling manga style pictures during English class. I leave them to it, since said doodles are often amazing. Curiously enough though, these self same kids are as inept at Pictionary as I am at Japanese. And that's very inept indeed.

Last week I gave one girl the task of drawing 'dog'. A dog. 'むり.' she says. Impossible. 'Not impossible. Easy.' says I. This was a demonstration class with student's parents lining the walls of the classroom and here's a student informing me that drawing a picture of a dog is beyond the scope of human ability.

'No. It's very easy. Try.'
' No. It's eas...look. Here. I've drawn one. Copy this.'

It took her a good 10 minutes to copy the picture, tongue out in desperate concentration. The tail was a little fat. Rub it out. Take a few minutes to to get the curve just so. Stand back. Survey, survey. Jesus Christ! It's Pictionary!! The fun game of fast drawing and rapid guessing. Draw girl, draw!

'Horse'. This from the back of the room.
'It's an animal yes. But no'.
'Racoon Dog?'

Today - a martyr to education - I decided to play Board Pictionary again. I asked a first grader to draw 'shoe'. He started crying in front of the blackboard. I told him to draw 'pen' instead. He froze, chalk in hand. An eternity passes by.

'Here' says I, 'I've drawn one. Copy this.'


Golden Week is now over and as I look back on it I realise I did very little of a constructive nature with a whole week of holiday besides clean the apartment and play host to Ben and his family for three days. It was good to have some company. Managed to fall off my bike three times which I remember nothing of and would dispute vehemently if it weren't for the magnificent bruises I keep finding on myself. Fun.

Work tomorrow. Fun?



Ever go to a comic book convention? C'mon, don't lie. Usually, after about an hour of being jostled by fat pony-tailed guys in black t-shirts grasping feverishly for Golden Age Stan Lee dross you start to realise that the stuff you're into is also the preserve of some seriously geeky people. Seriously geeky. Thinking you'll be safe from the otaku onslaught if you avoid the Marvel stands you head for the exit, only to be confronted by a horde of Spocks with bad posture, overweight Xenas and, in the worst case scenario, a Gandalf or two.

OK, I like comic books. I like anime. I like a lot of collectible pop cultural stuff. But since I was 12 I stopped wanting to actually be Batman. Or Lobo. Or Judge Dredd. But it's cool. If these people want to dress like this from time to time who am I to stop them? I just wish they didn't have to look so bad. Pot bellies and acne are not, unfortunately, the domain of the comic book and fighting fantasy milieu and a forty-five year old ale drinker sporting a mullet in a Spiderman suit just isn't right. Play to type for god's sake - the Rancor Keeper or a wookie or something.

But I like cosplay. The Japanese just seem to pull this off. Years of manga and anime and arcade beat-em-ups have conditioned me to feel that Japanese people just look right with blue hair and spandex or whatever. Cosplay, as I'm sure you don't need me to tell you, is an annotation of costume play, and though I've known about this for years, I really only get to see it in Osaka.

Outside Tennoji station there's usually a bunch of Pikachu smoking fags under the raised walkway. They do not look so good. Neither did the Winnie the Pooh I saw. But the Gothic Lolitas or EGLs are very cool. And so are the Little Bo' Peep girls you see from time to time (which I suspect are still actually Gothic Lolita). Admittedly, there is a theme here. Japanese girls. They just make these looks work somehow. The guys. Well. It's not quite the same. Although I've seen a couple with a look similar to 'Colourful Punk' featured in the slightly odd (and admittedly, not Japanese) Donnie Yen/Yeun Woo Ping breakdancing/kung fu curiosity 'Mismatchable Couples' which came off pretty well.

Comic book conventioneers please take heed. Look like what you can look like. A six-foot tall Yoda is no ones idea of a good look. Neither is a Buffy with a large and hideous camel toe. Do it right and you won't get laughed at on the train home. Unless you start reading back issues of Thor or get your sword caught between the carriage and the platform.


May the first. The days are becoming progressively warmer now - the first hints of humidity in the air.

It's been raining for several hours.

This morning I woke up in a hotel in Osaka, dreadfully hungover and aching from unknown afflictions. Myself and others had intended to see a Shonen Knife gig last night. The venue, Fandango in Juso, Osaka. Next to Fandango is a multi-storey car park, at the back of which are a couple of benches and a large metal ashtray intended no doubt to attract vagrants and ne'erdowells such as our very good selves. We imbibed some tinnies and talked it up, blissfully unaware that Shonen Knife were at that very moment playing the shortest gig in human history. 'Doors open 7.30pm. Support band!' it said in Kansai Time Out. At 8.25pm we roll up at the club. Shonen Knife and the support band were long gone. 'What the..?' How many songs could they have played? Still, never mind - Osaka awaits! We played pool till the early hours and discussed extremely important and stimulating issues over gin and tonic and some other stuff besides.
Left the hotel, inhaled some McDonald's crap and made it to Tennoji with only brief flashes of paranoia and shaking en route. Longest train journey ever experienced results in platform 2 at Wakayama station. Rain. Warm rain. Home. Kettle on. Strange rattling inside stove. Not rattling. Scraping. Uncannily like the scraping of hideous insect legs against metal. There's a cockroach in the fish grill. Bastard. I peer cautiously in. Christ! It's huge. It runs at me. I counter-attack, sending it back into it's fishy bolt hole. What to do? What to do? I must have tea!! The roach is sabotaging my tea efforts. No! I won't allow it. I fire up the fish grill. The roach scurrys about frantically. In it's panic it scampers, rather dramitically, into the path of the gas flames. I'm cautiously watching the whole thing from a respectable distance. Strange whistling noise. Is it screaming? Or is it calling for help from it's brethren no doubt thronged around the apartment.
Anyway. It dies. But it's lasting legacy in death is this: it's late and I'm tired but I don't want to go to my futon. There will be a revenge attack -of this I'm convinced. There's nothing for it but wet toilet roll in all the body cavities and the formulation of a decent defensive strategy. And a forced abstinence from grilled fish.