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Musings on Japan #01: First Impressions

I’ve been fortunate enough to live in a lot of countries over the last decade. The one place that makes me gush with glee the most is Japan. However, it wasn’t always so grand …

Back in 2003, I was a fresh-faced, wide-eyed boy from Adelaide, suddenly standing in the land of ninjas, high quality mass produced consumables, and Godzilla.

After years of drooling over the work of Osamu Tezuka, Hayao Miyazaki, Katsuhiro Otomo and their ilk, I decided that I had to be there. The easiest way was to teach the Queen’s English.

This required me to do a CELTA course, which instantly turned me into an educationalist capable of nurturing the minds and boosting the spirits of all the people of the world who have not yet had the enlightening torch of English pointed towards the receptive recesses of their brains. All this in one extensive and expensive month.

I soon realised that the job was not as good as I hoped. for But, not nearly as bad as I expected.

I had been living in London for years, and somehow got myself into a dreary rut and, consequently, wanted to get myself on a better wicket. Instead of being on a better wicket, I ended up fielding around the boundary. Because I wasn’t actually in Tokyo to start with (I later moved to Akabane, which is on the cusp of Tokyo), but in a prefecture just north called Saitama. Well, I wasn’t actually in Saitama either. I was where the arse end of Tokyo rubs up aggressively, and not at all seductively, with the arse end of Saitama: Koshigaya.

Hip Tokyoites have an insult to those they consider uncool: “dasai”, which is short for “Datte Saitama no” which translates to “But that’s from Saitama (therefore it is boring/crap/backwards)”. This gives you an insight into just how dull this place is.

At the start, I taught at 5 different schools: Takenotsuka (Saturday), Soka (Monday), Akabane (Tuesday), Kawaguchi (Wednesday), Warabi (Thursday) and wherever my Overlords wanted to place me on my “days-off”.

Takenotsuka is a crappy looking council estate town. It used to be a Yakusa city, hence all the “Lady’s Clubs” and “Pubs”, which are synonymous with the naughtier side of life.

I also taught at Akabane, a notorious red-light district famed for one particular street that is bursting with Thai Lady Boys. I ended up living there for over a year … that’s for future musings (and, no, it doesn’t involve lady boys:))

The other schools were so non-descript that I can think of nothing neither witty nor damning to say about them.

The hours were often quite silly – my students never got much Present Perfect out of a bleary eyed yawning Mike whose Past Simple involved 5 hours of “Head, Shoulder, Knees and Toes” with screaming children (or the spawn of Beelzebub)… I apologize for the lame grammar joke.

Talking of demon spawn. There is a sport amongst Japanese children called “kancho”, which roughly translates to stick your finger up teacher’s arse. Believe me, after you have experienced this a few times you never turn your back on some angelic looking child in a sailor’s outfit.

Uniforms run rampant over there. Even parking attendants are decked out like Napoleon. They have these great big pink truncheons always at hand. They light up to an eye-achingly lurid neon pink to beckon the seemingly blind drivers to a car’s resting place.

On a linguistic note, it wasn’t long before I discovered my favourite Japanese word ever: “hanamizu”. “Hana” means nose, and “mizu” means water: nose water. Or, as we say, snot!

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