Tuesday, August 31, 2010


Today, moist and cloudy, 32 degrees, air like paste, heralds the one month anniversary of my arrival in Japan. It seems incredible that that much time has passed - in keeping with the typical traveller`s cliche, it seems only a short time ago that I was boarding the plane with nothing but 1000 kilograms of largely disposable luggage and an open mind.

A month later, I now feel like a seasoned resident. Despite the fact that a large part of the communication I encounter daily still passes me by, I am comfortable in my city, confident in my ability to find myself again, should I get lost (near daily occurence). My commute to school has become routine rather than an occasion to count the minutes and check and re-check train schedules and bus-timetables - I am now one of many who plug into their iPod, open their book (currently Wuthering Heights, being reread for the enth time thanks to the joys of iBook) and tune out the universe. I now carry a sweat towel rather than dabbing surreptitiously at my forehead with the backs of my hands. I sprint for the incoming train despite knowing that the next will arrive in precisely three minutes. I like to think that I am being accepted by those who commute alongside me, this last being determined by the fact that nice old ladies now fall asleep on my shoulder rather than standing up for fear of sitting next to me. And I can squat with the best of them (this is conjecture, have not asked about nor observed specific technique).

Even though my routine has become familiar, nothing is boring. New things become clear to me every day, I find myself in more and more peculiar situations, I am suprised anew daily at life in Japan. The supermarket alone remains a new frontier; don`t even get me started on the underground shopping malls.

Now, enough of this sentimental retrospective. I know that I have been reticent in my blogging as of lately, due to sad lack of internet in my flat, but (all things going to plan, which is rarely the case) internet is due to be installed TODAY so if God (Buddha) is smiling, there is, at this very minute, a skinny and awkward Japanese man poking around my knicker drawer in my flat, having completed the task of connecting me with the world at large. At this point I am so greatfully anticipating the ability to watch Grey`s Anatomy online in bed, he can have the knickers as a gift. I recommend the leopard-print ones.

Today, Kaisei first graders have internship experience, which takes them out of school, and therefore out of my classroom. I am thusly located in the Board of Education computer room, Coke Zero at one hand and my iPhone at the other, precisely perched beneath the airconditioning vent, with five hours in which to leisurely recount to you, faithful 19 readers, the events of this last week. WARNING: I am so delighted to be in an environment in which it does not feel like my skin is melting away like hot yoghurt that I am feeling magnanimous. This means that the following blog will contain at least some information that you would probably have a better first day of spring NOT knowing. Be brave.


1. 6 Hour All-You-Can-Drink Karaoke Commnecing at 12am

You do not need details. We danced on tables. We took off clothes. I stole a hat and had a minor mental breakdown at approx 5am. Good times had all round. Following day, death. Death and many, many Kit Kats.

2. Watched Kendo

For those of you out of the loop, Kendo is a sport in which highly padded young Japanese men (and, more recently, women) in baggy trousers take to each other with bamboo swords while screaming at the top of their lungs. I witnessed it as part of a sports day, in which five Sapporo Senior High schools met at various locations to indulge in various sweaty pursuits (WATCHING was a sweaty pursuit). My high school being of the academic bent, participation is a matter of honour more than competition - future physicists and biologists do not great baseballers make. But the Japanese attitude is one of optimism and eternal eagerness and so even anticipation of ultimate failure does not dull their enthusiam (possibly would have been more successful netballer/waterpolo-er/tennisplayer/human being in general if had had same attitude. Alack). It is quite something to see the students, so earnestly subdued in the classroom, attack as though they want to cut the other in half and dance amongst the entrails. The oral aspect is as much a part of the sport as the physical, and so the noise is deafening when the competition takes place in a high school gym. Despite the violence of the sport, it is beautiful to watch, like a dance. And they look like something out of a samurai movie - Tom Cruise, but without the cripplingly embarrassing awfulness.

3. Visited Parks

This may sound like nothing out of the ordinary, but for the past week, hemmed in by highrises, I had been craving greenery and water. I would show anyone who could be coralled into it, the location of my family home in Devonport, stranded at the end of a peninsula, in order to justify my longing for the coast. Sapporo is essentially landlocked - two hours dirve to the nearest port feels like an impossibility when you a. can`t drive and b. don`t know anyone with a car. So I asked for recommendations and ended up, on Saturday and Sunday respectively, in Nakajima Coen and Maruyama Coen (coen being the Japanese word for park, congratulations on your newfound biological bi-lingualism). And these parks, despite being stranded in the middle of the city and surrounded on all sides by train stations and convenience stores, are truly beautiful. Nakajima Coen boasts a lake, whilst Maruyama Coen contains both a zoo and the Hokkaido Shrine, all of which I dragged boyfriend around. Visiting these parks felt like leaving the fifth biggest city in Japan behind and getting back to something familiar, something green. Although it was the weekend, the parks were not busy, and it was a zen and soothing experience. I felt more myself after visiting them (typically, feel more affinity with NZ landscape and beauty now that have left it behind, must address this tendency to be constantly contradictory). Even with crows visibily scoping out babies with a view to lining their nests therewith and the heat slowly squeezing my brain out of my pores, the discovery of this (albeit limited) nature in Sapporo made me feel all the more a proud resident.

4. Purchased laxatives

Those of you unfortunate enough to know me well will know that my digestive system is the bane of my existence. It does what it likes. It is like a petulant child with ADD. It rejects all kinds of good food on a whim (an URGENT whim) and witholds white bread like a ransom. The day finally came when my body had jealously guarded all input for no less than six days (yes, gross, you were warned) and a Japanese chemist needed to be visited. Here, at this essential juncture, my faithful phrase book failed me. This small blue book, shamelessly stolen from boyfriend, has accompanied me everywhere and furnished me with such phrases as `May I have stamps please?` and `Don`t touch me!` (awkward moment in which to stop, open handbag, rummage around and turn to contents page, but). Though it contains such gems as `rash`, `pedicure` and `oxygen treatment`, at no point therein did the publisher see fit to provide the traveller with the translation for `laxative`. As such, I was forced to enter the chemist, approach the smiling older woman behind the counter and announce, with zero fanfare `I am constipated`. To her credit, she did not pause nor laugh. Even though I`m sure I was the highlight of her day and the subject of ruthless subsequent dinner party conversation, she swiftly provided me with what I needed. The box was, of course, all in Japanese, so I think it is some testament to my faith in human nature and the extent of my stomach pain that I blindly swallowed three of the hot pink pills (laxatives here are pretty, the results less so). Had been told that Japanese medication was weaker in dosage than Western, so general rule of thumb was to double intake. Can faithfully now inform the reader that this was not good advice with regard to this particular product. One or two would have sufficed. More than sufficed. Three led to a fifty minute sojourn and the use of nearly a whole roll of toilet paper in our unventilated bathroom. Such a waste of the delicious Pad Thai boyfriend had created for dinner.


(Am feeling much better now, thanks for asking).

Think that this post has degenerated ever so slightly. No need for bathroom humour. And as I have unadulterated internet access today, it is a great occasion to catch up on news of the world and favourite blogs. And Bejewled Blitz.

Will let you know tomorrow whether skinny, awkward Japanese-man`s knicker drawer investigation bore fruit in the form of wireless internet access. Fingers crossed. Also, for your future reading pleasure, will be my first experience of a professional Japanese baseball game. Stay tuned.

In the meantime, those of you in NZ, have a beautiful first day of spring and spare a thought for those who long for grass (the underfoot, rather than underhand, kind).

Saturday, August 28, 2010

This post is about my iphone

...and as only a few of you will know (shamelessly smug) typing extensively on the small screen is awkward, cramped and probably arthritis inducing. So this post is nothing but a WASP-ish wireless demonstration of the extent of my means in Japan. As I am currently still in bed, it was also written naked.

More on Monday when I am more appropriately shod and have access to both keyboard and chair.

Have a wonderful Sunday.

Heaps of love,


Monday, August 23, 2010

On being a teacher

As someone who has always been the taught (referring of course to my status of learning rather than general muscle tone) rather than the teacher, it is interesting to be, after some 17 years happily beached on one side, marooned on the other. Being a teacher, particularly of a subject of which students have very little knowledge, MORE particularly of a subject that they have trouble recognising the daily necessity for, is a whole new life experience. I can recommend it to those in need of a new self view. All modesty goes out the door when you`re turned to a blackboard, sprinkled with pink chalk, attempting to draw a legible diagram explaining the intricacies of indentation, whilst listening to 20 incomprehensible adolescent male voices who might be declaiming anything from a haiku on the finer points of your bottom to words of ridicule. My best experience so far? Being asked by the teacher whom I am currently assisting to explain to the class the precise pronounciation of the word `sausage`. Have you ever said `sausage` thirteen times in a row to a grinning male Japanese audience? A humbling experience. And THEN, the teacher in question not being satisfied with the quality of this learning, going along the aisles, to each student in turn, and saying `sausage` and being replied to, in like kind: `sausage`. An interesting langauge barrier to traverse. And then at the conclusion of the lesson, I went to clean off the board and discovered that the words upon it were `slurp`, `sip` and `sausage`. Nothing like a bit of broken-English soft porn to really spur on adolescent learning.

These forays into the wonders of the English langauge aside, I really do have a new respect for teachers. I`m terrified, daily, and my students ADORE me. They think I`m the most exciting thing since sliced bread (NOT just a terrible cliche, sliced bread really is some kind of novelty here). They stroke my head and take my photo and ask me about my boyfriend and my favourite music. They sprint the full length of corridors just to yell `SCARRETT` and run away. At least three of the girls in my first grade class are now imitating my hairstyle (or perhaps I they, I am very impressionable). Imagine the calamities that must befall the teacher who is not worshipped! Even knowing as I do that in the eyes of these students I can do no wrong, my voice shakes when I speak to them, I review each lesson countless times before I give it, and I question myself (ME! LORD of ALL English!) at the blackboard (how many fucking `l`s DOES travelling have??). It is a heady kind of power, to have this skill that no one else in the class room, not even the teacher whom I am purportedly assisting, has (is interesting when the English teacher bounces into the class - they are not lacking in enthusiasm - at 10.30 and announces, loudly `Good Evening!`). Anyhoo, am settling in, figuring out the kinks of certain teachers and just generally trying to maintain the general demeanour of a young labrador (this, by the way, comes about as easily to me as defecating whilst squatting) (which I now have done) (if you wanted to know).

Another humbling thing in Japan currently is the fact that, try as I might, I continue to not only behave like, but look like, a dog. At 7am it is already 26 degrees. My carefully applied make up melts straight off my face and puddles interestingly at my collarbones. My hair is by turns limp and frizzy and, with the use of harsh Japanese shampoo, is becoming increasingly orange in hue. Careless and lazy eating means that I have probably put on weight, but even if it has not actually happened, it SEEMS as if it has, as I am now XL in the average clothing store and capable of picking up two of my students in each hand. I am a head taller than all of the teachers and the size of my feet is a source of constant shock and awe.

So as my first month in Japan comes to an end, I can say that my ego has, definitively, shrunk. Despite being a goddess among teachers (let us remember that my ego was vastly swollen beforehand) I now question myself with some frequency and avoid the mirrors that thoughtfully adorn the subway doors. This post is fraught with cliches so I`ll not shrink from concluding with another - even though I might be employed as a teacher, it is now that I am truly learning some life lessons.

Say it with me: sausage.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Kaisei High School

Today marked my first proper forays into the world of teaching. Initial reaction: pure exhaustion. Even walking the hallways at the moment requires a rictus smile and unrestrained, continual bowing. I look like a bobble-headed doll. But - it is now four o`clock, signalling the end of my work day and the beginning of a long, hot afternoon of beer-drinking and possible (necessary) laundry-doing so I can embark upon a brief retrospective of what might rightly be called my first real day of actual-adult work. Not to imply in any terms that serving smoked fish to, picking up after, and being obsequiously charming to, the cantankerous coffee drinkers of Wellington isn`t a real job, for I will maintain to the end of my days that no one works harder and more thanklessly than the lowly waitress, but this was a genuine wake-up-at-six, commute, prepare for coming lessons type of Thursday. The fact that I actually left enough time in my morning to have breakfast might indicate to those of you who know me well (condolences) that serious mental and physical preparation was going into my day (incidentally: Japanese bread, while ostensibly the texture and taste of freshly-shorn wool, makes for fabulous french toast, owing to its sponge-like construction. Can recommend. Even when - as syrup costs the earth here - consumed with peanut-butter).

So I was on my bike by 7am - no small feat. Also to be noted is that both my tyres are now undeniably flat. I think my sweet lil Mama Cherry was not built for a mass such as mine, and each rotation brings her closer to the ground, and to the place wehre all bad bikes go - but nonetheless I continue to require her services, as even at 7am the day is hot and the roads are busy and I have no desire to make myself a crow-target by lowering my average speed. This afternoon`s task is to locate a bicycle shop and try to convey my needs. My imitation of a deflating bicycle tyre may well be worth a YouTube tribute. Will confirm later. Subway packed at that hour - Japanese people not being lie-a-bed types. My first bad decision of the day came when I opted to get off the subway at the later stop, meaning a fifteen minute walk to school rather than a five minute bus-ride. I was early and the day was clear and beautiful so it did not immediately seem like an error. It was only when I had been walking for 20 minutes without encountering any recognisable landmarks that I began to rue my desire for exercise (clearly, am not meant to be fit-type-person. Should just accept this perhaps). So I stood on the corner of a foreign intersection, looking in all directions, trying not to burst into emotional tears. I must have not be restraining my emotions as well as I thought (was on the ground, weeping like baby), as a cab pulled over and picked me up. Thank you, god of cab drivers. I will not tell you how long we had to drive in the opposite direction to that in which I had been walking to get to school. Is embarassing. Safe to say that my move to the Northern Hemisphere has not magnetically healed my directional failures. Still, definitively, failing.

So I was slightly over-wraught upon arrival (over-wraught not being an emotion that sits well with Japanese passivity) and had to spend several minutes in the squat toilet pulling self together (read: putting on more make up. Mask for the day). But, commuting calamities aside, the day turned out to be a good one. My bento box, purchased for lunch, was delicious. Ricey and fishy and filling. One student in the hallway audibly called me beautiful (am ignoring the definite possibility that this was mistranslation of `red and sweaty looking`. And my classes seemed genuinely interested in both me and and the study of English. Some of them incredibly smart, while some of them need special attention, but at the moment, in my honey-moon period of teaching, I feel like just the person for all Japaneeds. I had a moment of panic two days ago where I contemplated the idea that teaching others means sacrificing your own learning, a gesture I was not prepared to make. But I have decided that there is balance to be found, a karmic fulcrum, and while I may not be a teacher at heart, I am currently well-equipped to be a teacher in deed.

In other news: payday tomorrow. Thank goodness. Even though as yet have no idea how to access my money in the back (MORE practical failings) the idea that I will soon have resources existing tangibly in Japan is very exciting. Am anticipating unrestrained shopping trip. Internet and phone should be arriving shortly, internet in next week, iPhone in approx two, meaning that constant contact with the world at large will be restored. Though, have become so adept at thieving web connections that perhaps could avoid large Japanese bills.

Boyfriend is now gainfully employed in a gaijin bar called TK6 as a short-order cook. I ate his steak sandwich (legit) last night, and can pronouce him a solid chef. Of course, this means that I work days and he now works nights and so our relationship will once more be one of those shadow ones where it might well be any sweaty man snoring next to you, but at this point I will take what I can get.

I am feeling very feng shui and yin/yang and at peace. This may be because I have three fans (wavey ones, not adoring ones, I have THOUSANDS of those); and beer in the fridge; and friends in Japan; and wood-look sunglasses. And apparently I can function as a teacher, despite total professed selfishness. My cup runneth over. With Sapporo. So, until I get hopelessly lost in the streets of Kanjo Dori again, kampai!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Brief Hiatus

To my twelve delightfully faithful followers - please try to be patient with me over the next week. Today marked the first day of my job proper, as an Assistant Language Teacher at Kaisei High Schhol ,which means I will be sadly bereft of the copious internet time I have been gifted with thus far. Because I will actually have to be doing something to earn my money. Life is hard sometimes (of course, I am not doing too well so far, as evidenced by my obvious presence on stolen student internet). Thus, this is an invocation to you all not to abandon me. I promise to return with all the regularity of a daily prune eater as soon as internet is installed in my flat. This should occur sometime before Christmas. In the meantime, I will pwrite posts offline, so you will be gifted with many meandering words when the time comes to launch them all online. I expect baited breath anticipation for this time.

In the meantime I leave you with this Japanese gem of genius: In Japanese high schools, the classes of first years are taught on the first floor. Of second, on the second. Of third, on the third. It is a system precisely designed for the navigationally challenged foreigner (ie. me). Kudos, Japan, for a thoughtful system. Now if only I was not predominantly teaching third years, I would be wholly satisfied.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

First experience at a Japanese High School....

Yesterday marked our first foray out of the Board of Education Office and into a bona fide Japanese High School with bona fide young manga minds. This high school was Odori, one of the newest and most American high schools in Sapporo. The students who were there were there of their own volition, it being the holidays, so it was down to the resident ALT`s to make abandoning a lifestyle of karaoke and loitering in subway stations worth their while. We were paraded in front of the gym to introduce ourselves and say one thing about ourselves+ ie. `I am Clare. I like music`. Grand. My angle: Lady Gaga. I have made the (wise?) decision that Lady Gaga is going to be my mascot in Japan. Whether adopting as my mascot a leotard wearing, declaratively bi-sexual purported transexual in one of the most conservative societies left on earth is a smart move, time will tell. `I am Scarlett. I love Lady Gaga`. Laughter, a few dirty looks. But it made me popular with two small Japanese types who looked straight out of Sailor Moon - they declared me cute (risible, as am approx one metre taller and 30kg heavier than both), took my picture and stroked my hair. Giggling all along. Feel like rare breed of dog.

Anyway, my first Japanese High School experience proved to be positively multi-cultural. I partook in a Russian tea-ceremony and learned about Arabic Fashion (read: different coloured scarves). The small Japanese girl who was fluent in Russian and comprehensible in English was a source of amazement. As was the Russian tradition of licking a jammy spoon before drinking tea (this is not the interestingly dirty metaphor it appears, simply a fact: you lick a jammy spoon). As was watching Arabic being written on the board. It looks like music, like water. Any written langauge that can make squeaky white chalk dance is ok with me. I heart language. Bad Romance.

Part of the cultural fesitivities also involved Scottish dancing, which in turn required partnering a Japanese boy whose head was on level with my (sweaty) breasts. As luck (terrible fate?) would have it, he was one of only four students from the high school at which I will be a fixture as of Tuesday present at the Odori cultural day. His name was Yudai, and he works at the school paper: `I will interview you. You will be front page`. He was sweet and spoke excellent English and refrained from rolling his eyes as I proved myself utterly unable to keep time with the simplest Scottish jig. Let me tell you, being twirled around a gym by a slight boy who could fit neatly under your armpit is guaranteed to bring home all insecurities about lack of balance/coordination/tiny dainty ankles. Lucky, then, that he shamelessly worshipped me. He promised to find me on Tuesday and look after me. When I expressed concern that he would not be able to find me he refrained from saying `Don`t be ridiculous, you are eight feet tall and wider than doorways` but said `Is ok. Your hair is so vivid (actually, `bibid`, but the point was conveyed). If Yudai is a true representation of Kaisei High School students then this year should be a dream.

Anyway, must go now. There is Facebooking to be done. New photos will be posted today. I also must muster my creative skills and create some sort of poster replete with sheep and kiwifruit and All Blacks and photos of family and friends in order to convey to these students some aspects of my life. Because sheep were so integral to my happiness in NZ. To those friends who will be thus represented alongside flightless birds - apologies. The key dilemma is whether to include the beautiful explicit photo of Lady Gaga`s ass therein. This vision does afterall occupy far more of my thought processes than pavlova. To be honest or to be culturally correct? Stand by.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Things that Japan has that NZ should look into getting.

First on my list has to be a uniquely Japanese tradition which I experienced for the first time last night: all you can eat/all you can drink parties. You hire the table for 2 hours and omnipresent smiling Japanese waiters bow and prance and bring you plate after plate of food and jug after jug of beer. Truth: these parties are probably disasterously bad for your health. Another truth: they are great for breaking down awkward cross-cultural barriers. There is nothing like free-flowing Asahi to make you willing to embrace/tell all your secrets to/have deep political discussion about the governmental treatment of your country`s indigenous peoples with even the quietest Japanese person. The only problem is that time does fly. Getting your money`s worth in two hours time is quite the challenge, one which every JET seemed amenable to last night. Hence the prone bodies and unusual silence in the Board of Education office this morning.

Secondly - karaoke. Now, I know this exists elsewhere, but no one does it like the Japanese. Once again you can sign up for all you can drink. And you are shut in a small dark space teeming with beer. And it is amazing how quickly all inhibition vanishes. Most of the Western world are terrified of public performance - I have scraped from the back of my sodden brain some fact to the effect that public speaking is a greater fear for many than death (personally, I am more afraid of crows than both of the above. Their BEAKS). Performing `My Humps` in front of a bunch of strangers must then be akin to public nudity at a great height whilst on fire. However, this is what I did last night. With dance moves. And vigour. And probably the odd hip-thrust (prays to God that no photographic evidence exists of this frightening memory. I will never be President of America if that comes to light). And this from someone who has point-blank refused to sing for anyone (aside from within the protective ranks of a choir) for the last 10 years. And the grand protective blanket that covers all this latent Japanese exhibitionisim? The culture of forgetting. At a drunken, tuneless staff party, all may be revealed. Cohorts who have never spoken two words to one another may confess deepest secrets, or communicate how genuinely terrible they believe the other to be at their job. The type of confessions which, in NZ, would lead to black grudges borne for decades, and ascribed on tombstones - in Japan, in the light of day, blank slate. Absolutely. No one will be held to account for dire drunken behaviours. Definitely a cultural nuance that makes the morning after less cringe-inducing. So I guess this AM amnesia would be make third on my list of desirable Japanese traits.

Fourth - takoyaki. Also known as octopus balls. Don`t knock it til you`ve tried it. Gooey, fishy, savoury, delicious.

Fifth - Buses that actually arrive on time. To the minute. Now that I`ve experienced it I know it can be done. New Zealand bus-drivers: take note. There is no excuse for this 20 minute give or take that seems to surround the approximations that we laughably call a timetable.

Sixth: Coca Cola Kit-Kats. Why has nobody thought before to combine these two addictive indulgences? Only the Japanese.

That is all for now. I am going to go discover more things for my list.

To end: a few things that Japan could do with borrowing from NZ: mumdademilymaddyliznicolediallyrupertflissllew. Sort it out guys. As you now know, I`ve got lots of great snacks waiting for you.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

My Apartment

I am on the top floor of post-Soviet housing. The block could be a prison. It could be the projects. I half expect blood stains in the concrete corridors in the mornings. But, this is naive, I am in Japan, so the murderer would have mopped them up. And set up a shrine. And apologised to the parents, and the presiding mayor. Responsibility is not something that the Japanese avoid. The lift in my building goes up to floors 2, 6 and 1o and I live on the 11th. By the bright red `6` which signifies my block, for those of you who have accessed my FB photos. And I live under the crows. Come 4am (dawn in Japan) the crows awaken and caw to the sun. Given their position on my ceiling, they are also cawing to me in strangely human voices. I sleep with the windows closed despite the 30 degree heat, for fear of their hooked black beaks disembowelling me or stealing my GHD. I hear that they are oddly intelligent for birds, which makes me think of Deep Blue Sea crossed with The Birds. They do have an intense look in their small black eyes, and a way of cocking their heads that indicates introspection. Excellent possible idea for new Japanese horror.

So: my apartment. Basically, it`s really big. Positively shockingly big. For all I`ve heard about Japanese shoe-box apartments, I am rattling round like a tiny tiny shoe in a cavernous shoe-box. I have two bedrooms, a dining room, a lounge, a kitchen, a foyer, a laundry, a toilet room and a shower room. I have many doors and many lightswitches. I have tatami and tables and bookshelves coming out my ears. All of my windows have two panes that requiring sliding back in order to access air (to keep out the CROWS). I have no oven, which is terrible given my enduring pressing urge to bake cakes (LOL). I have not yet even used the gas stove. I have been living off Frosties and excellent chicken skewers that can be purchsed from the supermarket across the road for a mere 100 yen. My balcony looks out across said supermarket and a McDonalds (probably will never cook in Japan at this rate). Yesterday I grew tired of the sad empty space that was my fridge and quested to the supermarket to fill it. It now contains: 2 tomatoes, 2 avocados, a bag of carrots, 4 custard conconction, 10 octopus balls, 1 chicken skewer, 1 carton of milk, 1 carton of apple juice, 4 cans of beer and 2 cans of coke. Positively respectable. In deference to a healthy diet, my freezer contains fresh pork and edamame, which will probably never be defrosted. But I feel house-proud nonetheless.

Oh, on Saturday, I locked myself in my shower room. Naked, with no towel. I was TERRIFIED. Within ten minutes I had flashed through a dozen drowing scenarios and at least two dozen starvation episodes. It was all very Stephen King. The locking mechanism on the door had jammed, and within fifteen minutes I was prepared to initiate some serios gaijin shoulder-barging. But with a little jimmying of the hinges with a knife I found in the laundry basket (thank goodness for the predecessing oddball who used a knife during their ablutions), I managed to free my damp self. I now shower with the door open. But imagine the headlines in NZ, had I not freed myself! Am I worthy of a headline? Maybe actually I would occupy `Oddspot`. It certainly seemed appropriate as I paced around my tiny wet floor contemplating the nutritional value of conditioner.

The thing with JET is that though the apartments are cheap and convenient, they are also museums. Each departing JET is encouraged to do their best to clean the place, but nevertheless, moving into ones apartment feels like squatting in the abode of a stranger. Their photos and timetables remain on the walls. Their leftovers reside in the kitchen cupboards. Their bedding is on your bed. The strangest thing for me: having a spare hour to fill, looking for a book to fill it with (unsuprising) and finding, amongst their leftover texts, a David Lange biography. My predecessors were from Portland: why? Was this an attempt at a parting gift? Stranger still: I read it. I am better versed on 1980`s NZ political history than I ever was whilst in the country. Grand.

Also left for my enjoyment: a baffling array of ointments, creams and pills, all open and all in Japanese. At least 11 umbrellas. 4 pairs of slippers. 3 hiragana posters. An incredibly ancient toaster oven. 7 tins of tuna. Five million futons (Japanese apartments have admirable storage facilities). 2 pre-packaged bronze medals. A VHS labelled `Old Friends Episodes` (score). 2 unopened tubes of toothpaste.... the list goes on. I could survive purely on the contents of my apartment for at least 3 months.

In summary, apologies for this post. Its haphazard construction is indicative of the current haphazard nature of my life. I wake at four. I shower three times a day. I eat Frosties for breakfast and dinner. I consult my map incessantly. And my thoughts are occupied by David Lange. It is not an ordinary life I am living, nor is it an ordinary place in which I abide. My writing style can only reflect this for the time being. To those at home: I miss you very much. I miss the comfort and order you brought to my life in NZ. I am looking forward to discovering new friends in Japan who, though they cannot be your equals, will give me some of the same stability. In the meantime, at least I can say I have Friends in Japan.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

NB: I have found Japan.

Or, have found myself in Japan (more likely, given my navigational skills). Either way, here I am. In the five days since my departure, have progressed from New Zealand to Tokyo to Sapporo. The flight was uneventful - barely noticed time passing, preoccupied as I was with watching the entire first season of Glee. Turns out that an uninterrupted flow of show tunes and baby-daddy drama distracts entirely from the discomforts of coach class. Why is that I am always seated behind the shameless recliner? Is there something about my backstage presence that draws them backwards? Do I emit tangible magnetic attraction? Gravitational pull? Mystery abounds.

Stepping off the plane into Tokyo was like being buried in flannels. The air is thick as stew, hot and wet and cloying. Walked the length of the airport (same as length of New Zealand) behind a tiny Japanese child who skipped as she walked, the back of whose t-shirt read `Honey Love Closet`. In my time-warped state I could not decide what would possess someone to print this on a t-shirt. Finding myself now in a functional state (running at approx 70%), I am still unsure. It puts one in mind of the genitals of a female bear. Or something. At any rate, inappropriate when placed between the dainty shoulder blades of an Asian infant.

Did you know that the Tokyo airport comes equipped with a personal train to get you from different terminals? That upon arrival, your temperature is taken, and finger prints and photograph recorded? That it is inevitable, if you arrive with a planeful of New Zealanders, that the tall boy standing behind you in the customs queue will in fact have been hosted in the house of your best friend during a waterpolo tournament, and sparked adolescent interest leading to instant recognition some 7 years later? That despite clinical strength deoderant you WILL sweat enough to fill a canteen and slick your perfect fringe to your forehead? All of these things are proven truths about Tokyo airport.

Outside the terminal. Buried in yet more flannels. JET personnel assaulting you with fixed smiles every five metres. Sunglasses sliding down your nose, puddles in your bra, Wellington-style boots becoming individual foot spas. Bus ride. Air conditioning. Insurance forms. Who will benefit from my accidental death insurance, should I accidentally choke to death on a flannel? 50% Mum, 50% Dad. Forgive me Aravin, but I will not tempt you to homicide for yen of yen.

Keio Plaza. 26th floor. Views almost back to New Zealand (true). Shower. Shower again, this time cold. Then venturing out into the streets (more flannels), accosted with bright lights, bright voices, katakana, kanji. Order one beer. Arrive in a 1.5 litre bottle. Resign self to drunkeness. Prawns, scallops, dumplings. Photographs. Brief panic at being lost (despite being 5 mins walk from hotel. Unsuprising). Sleep.

The following two days: orientation coming out my ears. Had not realised how disorientated I had been. Can tell you all about culture shock. Driving in Japan (cannot drive in NZ, but). Having a baby on JET (thank goodness, life plan coming together). Eating in Japan (through mouth, same as home, boring). Sleeping teaching partyingcontraceptiondoctor`svisitscyclingcleaningtatamihidingone`s tattooonsensex/nosex. Then: freedom. Much beer, much food, Karaoke. Convincing rendition of Alejandro (no gun bra but cannot have everything). Men sleeping in streets, eating from hands, all cleanly shaven, freshly washed, well-spoken and polite. Mystery. Boy bleeding in street. Express concern. HIs friends reassure concerned gaijin (foreigner) `Is ok, he is in hell`. Good, relief. Edamame at 2am. Sleep (aside: have stained every pillow case since arriving in Japan bright red. Clear contradiction to assertion that this is natural hair colour. Problem).

Sapporo-bound. Casually clothed (much make-up though, obv. Cannot change self). Carrying own body weight in luggage (luggage = mainly clothes plus occasional hair bow). Starbucks in airport `Are you America?` ......`Yes, am` (aside: cannot for life of me find normal, right-inclined apostrophe. Japanese apostrophe`s drunk, leaning wrong way. Too much Sapporo). New experience during flight: cameras mounted on under-carriage of plane, showing real-time take off/landing. As if strapped to plane`s bum. As if large, terrifying Japanese crow. Disorientated (alas, after all that work at becoming orientated. Waste). Landed. Taxi ride. Constant attempted conversation by driver in Japanese. Much nodding, much smiling. Put on sunglasses, pretend to sleep. Buildings, roads, cars. On and on and on. Japan is big (who knew?).

Arrive: JICA. Some sort of student hostel. Small room, small bed. Am back in Weir House. Much retrogression today. Beer and chocolate and Jelly Beans from 7 Eleven. Feeling much more myself (require excess alcohol and sugar to be self? Problematic). Chat. Back to bedroom. Reread Secret History for nine hundredth time. One of only 6 books to make it to Japan. Worthy. Sleep. 12 hours, sleep.

Then: Move to apartment. Lengthy description thereof necessary (brief introduction: have found at least 15 futons in cupboard. Also, in pantry, approx 15 cans of creamed asparagus). More blogging later (promise, probably Monday. Weekend is for drinking). Now: orientation. Thank goodness, feeling positively directionless.