Not Snowboarding, Again


I don’t know what it is about winter that ruins my sleep pattern so. 
I couldn’t sleep last night til after the time I was supposed to be getting up to go snowboarding. I told myself that I would just delay a couple of hours. Again, I got up mid-afternoon. 
Now, it’s 4am. 
Next weekend, I promise…

Not Snowboarding

Image from

Well, the plan for today was to go snowboarding. There’s a small resort a few hours away from me and I thought I’d pop up for the day to test my boarding legs. After all, they’ve been out of action for two seasons, and they weren’t that great to begin with.

I dutifully set the alarm clock for 5am, intending to get the first train out of my town, then another train to local Big City, then a bus. I woke up at 9am. Then again at 2pm. Good god. I minced around the house for a bit, then dried some clothes and bought some food for dinner, but was so hungry I ate a bun outside the laundromat. That curbed my desire for dinner so when I got home I lay down to read a book for a bit and BAM! Asleep again.

It’s now 11pm. DAMN!!! All week I invent exciting plans for the weekend, and then when the weekend comes I spend it all bloody asleep. No idea where this mystery exhaustion is coming from.

I’m going to try to go tomorrow but in the meantime, here’s a photo of some Japanese snowboarders, all fashiony and such. Check out the cow suit! Enjoy!

Image by glemak


I got my first gift in work today!

My area is famous in Japan for producing mikan – they’re really sweet mandarin oranges. They’re particularly easy to peel and have very little pith. The whole town and surrounding area is filled with mikan trees, which have slowly been turning orange since I arrived.

Above is a picture of my very first mikan. I was given a whole bag of them (maybe 20, you can see half of them in the background of the photo) by one of the mothers in the school. I’m happy to report that even though I generally don’t like oranges, this one was delicious. I’ve eaten half the bag already and now my keyboard is all sticky. Yum.

It was a nice gift, they sell here for 4 dollars for a bag of 6, I’m sure they’re more expensive elsewhere in Japan.

It’s the very start of the season so hopefully I’ll get a few more bags for free. When they’re on all the trees around my apartment I just can’t justify spending so much on them.

Oh, and for those that celebrate it – Happy Thanksgiving! (I had beef on rice… no oven here.)

Funny Things That Happened At School Today

1. I went into the bathrooms, found both stalls occupied, so waited my turn. I heard maniacal giggling coming from one of the stalls. A minute or so later, two little boys (6 or so) came out. I asked what they were doing. They looked at each other confusedly, then hugged by way of explanation.

2. The owner of the school’s dog somehow got into my classroom and refused to leave. I had 8 13 year old boys chasing a hysterical poodle for ten whole minutes. I sat on the floor with my face in my hands and yowled with laughter.

I made a friend!

So I finally hooked up with the girl who lives in the town nearby. Not romantically hooked up, just met up. I invited her over last night to have dinner and watch a movie. (Though that does sound like a date).

We decided to try a restaurant I’d never been to before. It was tiny, only four tables and a bar, and ONE guy working there. Somehow this didn’t seem like it would be a problem…

We ordered drinks and some appetizers to start, meaning to order the actual food when he came back with the appetizers. That took well over an hour. Service in Japanese restaurants is often slow, but come on. 90 minutes? For some fried cheese in batter? It wasn’t like the place was full, only two of the three other tables were occupied, and one group had finished eating when we arrived and were well into the drinking. The other table was a couple. I was struggling to hide my anger from my new friend (best to wait til they know you better to unleash the crazy right?) but she was annoyed too. We ended up leaving after the three minutes it took to eat the cheese and getting konbini food on the way home.

It was such a treat to have someone to speak English with who isn’t my boss! We somehow ended up staying up til 7am talking about living in Japan (she’s been here over 2 years), home (she’s from the US) and all sorts of other random things.

It’s not often I get a girl-crush, but this could be great – a friendship borne of a shared love of food, books and lame movies. With a little cynical rage thrown in.

(I’ve just realised how weird it would be if she read this. Do I sound like a stalker?)

The JLPT Dilemma

I got my JLPT test voucher in the post the other day.

I applied for it way back in August before I jumped on the Heisig/All Japanese All The Time bandwagon, when I thought it might be a good thing to do. Now, I’ve paid my monies and am scheduled to do it in the nearby Big City. It’s on the 7th of December this year.

There’s been a lot of debate on the interwebs about whether or not the JLPT is any good, or whether having a JLPT qualification actually means anything. I can see that really, the Japanese is probably not all that useful in daily life. When I started out, I was using the Japanese for Busy People textbook. Once I actually started working though, I realised that the kids only use informal Japanese, so all the verb forms I had learned were inappropriate – some of the littlest ones just look at me blankly when I use the polite forms.

I can see that having the Level 1 certification could be very useful for getting a job and many universities here require it for foreigners wanting to take courses. Even though having level 1 doesn’t necessarily mean you are fluent, it will get your CV past the first round of consideration by employers.

The lower levels on the other hand seem kind of pointless. I’m a long way from level one (the highest level), I’m way down at level four (the lowest). I’m not even likely to pass level four. I’ve been plugging away at Remembering the Kanji, but I haven’t yet covered the 100 odd kanji needed for level four, never mind all the readings. I know words like riot, icicle and nitrate, but not week or station.

The other consideration is that that weekend is the only weekend I’ll have free to go snowboarding before I go home for Christmas. The weather had been pretty warm up til about a week ago (now it’s flipping freezing) so there was little snow anywhere close by, but now it’s really dumping down.

So – should I just ditch the JLPT and go snowboarding?
Any advice??

Teaching English In Japan

I work at a private English school in the countryside in Japan. I teach kids from 2 years old up to 18 or so.

Most of the kids come for 2 hours. Half an hour of either tracing the alphabet, filling in the blanks on worksheets or hardcore grammar work depending on their age, then an hour of “conversation” (that’s me), then another half an hour of tracing/grammar.

The school runs from 2 or so until 10.30pm. I usually have either four or five classes a day, split into a 3 or 4 class run, then a 30 minute break, then one class, or sometimes two. Obviously I arrive later than the Japanese lady who does the tracing/grammar, and leave earlier.

For anyone considering coming to Japan to do similar work, here are my tips…

1. Give Up Smoking.

As mentioned, sometimes I have to work 4 hours straight. Maybe I’m just a lazy spoiled Westerner, but I’ve never had to do that before. I’ve had a few of the normal 9-5 or 5.30 jobs, where you work 9-11.15, have a coffee break for ten mins or so, then lunch is 1-2, then another break around 4 for ten mins. Unless things were really mental, I never worked more than about 2 hours straight. I’ve also worked 12-hour shifts in a hospital. There I never worked more than 2.5 hours straight.

I should point out, that I’m a smoker. Even when things were really busy in work and I was eating lunch at my desk, I was always able to nip out for 2 minutes for a smoke. Not in this job. Apart from the obvious not wanting to stink of smoke around the kids and parents, it’s just not feasible. The classes are an hour long. I can’t let the kids out early because the tracing/grammar lady won’t be finished with the previous class. I can’t come in late because the kids will be tearing around the room and generally raising hell. So, no smoking. I’ve invested in nicotine patches. Seriously. 4 hours straight with 14 five year olds? Some days I feel like Krusty the clown wondering if there’s some space on my butt to stick an extra patch. (Not really, I only ever have one patch on… just in case you were worrying).

This brings me neatly to point 2…

2. Develop Excellent Bladder Control.

This is way more of a problem than the smoking thing. Realising you kind of have to pee, then looking up at the clock and knowing you won’t be able to for three more hours is torture. Obviously, sometimes I do have to leave the hellions to their own devices for a few minutes, but I try not to. I limit how much liquid I consume before class and try not to think about waterfalls.

3. You Don’t Have To Like Kids, But It Helps.

Before I took this job I had never worked with children. I had worked rather extensively with babies, particularly very very small ones (see hospital job above) but never with kids who could walk and talk. I presumed I liked kids. I mean, who doesn’t? Not many people would ever openly admit to not liking children. It’s like not liking peace, or flowers or something.

Since coming here, I’ve realised that actually, I don’t love children. I don’t hate them either, I’m just not your typical super-awesome-wow-fun camp counsellor you usually get teaching 3 year olds.

The first week was a real eye-opener. I thought that knowing a lot about babies and having a teenage brother would be useful. Wrong wrong wrong. Children are dirty and loud and rude and violent. When they get together they can be vicious. I spend plenty of time breaking up fights and handing out tissues and generally being a zookeeper. I seriously considered packing it in, going home and breaking out the power suit and high heels and going back to the office.

4. Japanese Kids Are People Too

After a few weeks, something happened. I started consistently remembering their names, and sometimes I even matched the name to the right kid. I started to get to know a few of them. I started to find them funny and cute. It stopped being a blur of snot and noise, and I found myself looking forward to going in to see a particular class of exceptionally cute four year olds or bright 13 year olds.

No matter where you work, there’ll always be people you don’t like. In my last job, I had to buy an ipod just to drown out the voice of this excruciatingly annoying guy who spent most of the day making personal calls and yattering on about his latest night out. (Given, the stories were funny the first time, but there are only two weekend nights and five 8 hour working days. They wore out quickly). I used to time my breaks to avoid running into a really nice overly friendly guy who always wanted to sit with me, because he chewed with his mouth wiiiiide open.

You just have to suck it up. You can’t avoid the infuriating people in the world, particularly when you’re getting paid to teach them English. You just have to overlook their poor personal hygiene and appalling social graces, and get on with your day.

Sometimes, you even have to accept the occasional slapped bum. Somehow, I don’t think the director of the school would entertain a sexual harassment charge against a 3 year old.