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April 2002, Kansai, Japanprevious month
The Daily Mumble May 2002 Archive
next monthJune 2002, Niseko, Japan
 
May 2002 Highlights: settling into a foreign environment, monkey elected as Mayor, lost in the bamboo, Morris dancing, launch of Web-cam, speech to over 200 people in Japanese, the isolation begins to take its toll, Joseph's Japanese study program, brewery tour...

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Wednesday 1st May 2002 - 23:30(GMT+9) Niseko, Japan

Well, it's getting easier, as the initial "What on earth am I doing here?" and "who are these people?" stage starts to recede. The fact that The Dungeon is now sporting two fantastic bargain-basement rugs has lifted my mood a great deal, as has my decision to try to obtain a 3-year work visa and return to Japan in November following September's departure.

The fact that I made it to the Konbini (convenience store) and stocked up on chocolate, beer and cola has also done wonders for my positive outlook on life. I've even found Werther's Originals which I never saw in Tokyo - god knows how they got into the Japanese outback.

Tonight I played a key role in the preperation of the meal for our four guests. I spent ages wrestling 6 huge crab's legs with a pair of industrial-strength scissors, and then there was the pulling off of the raw-squid skin which seemed to be stuck to its owner with superglue.

I'm always astonished by how much washing-up is generated when cooking for so few people. The dishwasher was going non-stop on the dishes, and I spent almost two hours washing the pans. I do appreciate having time to reflect upon life, but this is just ridiculous! Doesn't do my delicate hands much good either. Grumble grumble.

I'm in love.

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Friday 3rd May 2002 - 13:35(GMT+9) Niseko, Japan

Monkey Elected as Mayor

You turn your back for just a few months and look what happens: your fellow countrymen elect a monkey as mayor.

A few hours ago I discovered that I can get Britain's Virgin Radio in FM stereo right here in my Dungeon (along with the BBC World Service), courtesy of a little cable-box gadget thing. The first thing I hear is that in yesterday's UK local elections, a man dressed as a monkey was elected as Mayor of the city of Hartlepool, with the pledge to give free bananas to all school children.

What's going on guys?!!!

Since hearing that I've had to turn the radio over to a local station; it was my first exposure to British popular culture in over six months, and I found myself feeling really weird (that's a technical term). Is it possible to get reverse culture shock via the radio? 8 minutes was my limit today - tomorrow I'll see if I can hack it for 12. If I increase the dosage gradually, September's return should see few side effects.

Don't get me wrong, it's not that I don't like British popular culture, it's just that it's so different from what I'm used to. It's a great shock to the system to find that I understand all that is said. I guess the fact that the DJ was b****y awful didn't help (although it's to be expected as it is currently only 4.45am in England, i.e. the show that all new DJs start out on).

Ahh, that's better. This Japanese presenter is far more entertaining. Well, she would be if I could understand what she was going on about...

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Saturday 4th May 2002 - 11:35(GMT+9) Niseko, Japan

Happy Birthday mum!

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Monday 6th May 2002 - 22:47(GMT+9) Niseko, Japan

I'm Home Alone! What with Golden Week coming to an end, all the guests have left. My colleague Eiko who usually lives at the other end of the house has dissapeared to see her boyfriend for a couple of days, and the owner is at home with his family at the bottom of the hill. It's a bit spooky being in such a big place all alone.

No transport, no shops, no chocolate. Earlier this afternoon I decided to explore the local area, and promptly got lost in a bamboo forest. I barely got out alive as I was chased by wild T-shirt wielding panda bears, and giraffes on pogo sticks.

planet of the bamboo leaves

This evening, as I was in need of relaxation, I decided to try out the nearest onsen (hot spring). There's loads around here, so I only had to walk for a couple of minutes. Not long after I'd sat down on my little plastic stool to wash, a chap came over and positioned himself right next to me, despite all the other stations being free. He was quick to greet me, and a conversation ensued (near-perfect English on his part, broken Japanese on mine!). Following a long soak in the very hot outdoor natural stone pool (watching the squirrels in the surrounding trees), I found that my new friend was waiting for me with his wife at the bar - he wanted to buy me a drink!

It turns out that he's the mayor of my local town - I am welcome to drop in to his office should I need any assistance.

I Like Japan.

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Tuesday 7th May 2002 - 18:34(GMT+9) Niseko, Japan

Most tiring thing that I did today: Cycled about 40km uphill.

Thing that confused me most today: The route I cycled started and finished here at Milky House, so how come it was all uphill? Did I accidentally cycle into heaven? Is heaven a mere reflection of Earth?

Best thing that happened to me today: got an email from an old friend in Germany.

Biggest stress today: When trying to find a job in Tokyo, starting in October.

Worst thing that happened to me today: sat on a piece of chewing gum on a pavement, and only realised 20 minutes later when I found that my bum was stuck to my bike saddle.

My most reflective moment today: When I was passing a green field used for grazing cattle. Haven't seen one of those for a long time.

Most exciting thing that I bought today: Box of Kellogg's Bran Flakes. After 6 months without it was a real treat to eat a whole box in one go.

Most surprising thing that happened to me today: Almost ran over a wild fox which then instead of running away, sat down in front of me (see my May 2002 photo album).

Moment when I felt luckiest today: When I was looking at the stunning scenery that surrounds me in the National Park in which I live.

Greatest wish today: To not feel so lonely.

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Sunday 12th May 2002 - 01:01(GMT+9) Niseko, Japan

the art of banging Morris sticks together
The full Morris Dancer's costume

Two nights ago, my boss, Nishio, said to me; "Joseph, we have a group of thirty 14-year-old schoolchildren staying tomorrow night, and I want you to present England to them."

Hhmm. No problem... (What the hell am I supposed to do? "Present England?" If the Japanese media is to be believed that means shaving all my hair off, donning an English football shirt and rioting with a broken beer bottle!)

A few hours and a lot of stress later I had the answer: Morris Dancing!

Now, as we all know, all English folks (and especially those from the border counties such as Herefordshire) spend every Saturday afternoon in the pub car-park with bells strapped to their legs waving hankies around and bashing sticks together. At least, that's what I had to convince these Japanese schoolchildren of.

I think I was more or less successful. The performance went down a storm even though half of my bells fell off and I didn't have a clue what the steps were, I mean, I haven't seen any Morris Dancing since I was about twelve years old. The only info and music I had I'd downloaded off the net - it's amazing how much one can learn in a few hours if the pressure is really on.

My problem now is that my boss was so impressed by my dancing that I know he's going to insist that I do it the next time we have a school party staying.

That's another fine mess I've gotten myself into…

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Sunday 12th May 2002 - 20:47(GMT+9) Niseko, Japan

Somehow today I managed to end up on a Wild Flower Tour of my local park with a bunch of pensioners. Three hours of examining various blades of grass and dandelions nearly drove me completely loopy, and the strain of feigning interest really took its toll as I only just made it home before calling the sanatorium to ask them to take me away.

I think the highlight was the discovery of yet another amazing Japanese gadget never seen outside this group of 4000 islands. Our guide had a bird book, and down the side of every page was a dotty grey strip. I thought he'd gone as crazy as me when he started to repeatedly run what looked like a little computer mouse up and down the page whilst obviously expecting it to do something. "Imagine my surprise" when the little mouse thing started to sing just like the bird pictured!

Despite that brief spell of excitement, I don't think I'll be signing up for the organiser's other nature-based group (fly spotting on Wednesday mornings).

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Monday 13th May 2002 - 17:04(GMT+9) Niseko, Japan

You catch me in Starbucks yet again. It's their hot chocolate that does it - I'm hooked.

So I'm back in the big city, which is now gearing itself up for the England-Argentina game. Derek, a colleague of mine, has actually got tickets - the only person I know who has. If anyone from the UK is coming over to Sapporo to see the match, bring warm clothes as it's still blummin' freezing here. Most people speak at least a little English, although I'd recommend that you bring a copy of Lonely Planet's Japanese phrasebook. If you want to stock up on Japanese gadgets, Yodobashi Camera is THE place to go - being situated right by the station it's easy to find too. There's Bic Camera too, although their theme tune isn't half as catchy.

It's a bit depressing really. I can't find anything that I want to buy anymore. All I've managed today is two tins of yellow emulsion to paint the bogey-green Dungeon walls and a pack of British Maryland Chocolate Chip Cookies. Oh, I bought a couple of CDs too - the new album by Moby and another by the Doves who I heard for the first time yesterday. I need more music as London's Virgin Radio is driving me nuts due to the fact that 50% of their airtime is taken up with advertising Nescafe Gold Blend. (No, I WON'T settle for anything less...)

I almost bought a mountain bike for £400, but then remembered Tuesday's outing and the resulting leg-ache. If I bought a bike I'd feel pressured into getting out of bed more often in any case. I must stay true to myself and not forget that I am lazy at heart.

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Thursday 16th May 2002 - 22:58(GMT+9) Niseko, Japan

I've been thinking about having a 24-hour web-cam linked to Tame Goes Wild for some time now, so this week I signed up with a company that can sort it all out for me, as I don't really understand the Internet or computers. "Lego.com" I think they were called.

A couple of men arrived today when I wasn't in, but I'd left instructions for them to go ahead and wire up my room. Tonight I'm delighted to see that everything is in place, and that the cameraman really doesn't take up much space at all.

On closer inspection I was shocked to find that the cameraman is in fact Des Lynam, the internationally recognised sports presenter on English TV! It was his hair colour that fooled me - he dyed it black last week for the job interview in a bid to look younger.

When I met him he had his camera pointed at my homepage - he'd got the wrong idea when told that he'd be operating a 24/7 web-cam. Still, now I'm live on Lego-net, the internet used by all lego people around the world to communicate in secret about their secret secret plan to take over the world next Tuesday. (It's a secret.)

I'd better tell George Bush, I'm sure he'd be only too happy to extend his global terrorism program. He can send his 50,000 strong Lego Army into battle as he's wanted to do ever since he was given them by his dad at the age of five...

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Thursday 16th May 2002 - 23:19(GMT+9) Niseko, Japan

So yesterday afternoon my boss told me to go and collect the 20-or-so schoolchildren from the local car-park where they were due to arrive shortly. No problem... or so I thought.

I was expecting one small bus, not 5 huge coaches, to roll up the hill. My spirits sank even lower when I found myself in the middle of some huge greeting ceremony conducted between the 200+ students and the owners of the penshions (such as Milky House) where the children were to stay. One by one the owners stepped forward, reeling off amazing speeches to receptions of laughter and applause.

And then it was my turn.

Now, you have to bear in mind that I thought I'd just be saying "hello" and "follow me" to a small group of children, and not making a grand speech in Japanese to a couple of hundred strangers who were eagerly awaiting my words of wisdom.

You know when something is so truly embarrassing that your mind automatically quarantines the memory so that it can't do you any more harm - a bit like a computer's anti-virus software - well, that's what happened to me. I can vaguely recall a spot of laughter, but I'm not sure whether that was AT me or WITH me.

I can't help but wonder how on earth I keep on getting myself into these bizarre situations...

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Thursday 16th May 2002 - 23:35(GMT+9) Niseko, Japan

I was right about the Morris Dancing - I have to perform again on next week for another group of children and teachers. In fact the school specifically asked for it in a letter sent this week after they heard on the grapevine what great entertainment I provided. I managed to escape the ordeal last night by preparing a nice little slideshow about England etc to amuse our guests. The only thing was, when it came to showtime the computer decided that it couldn't read the CD that I'd recorded, leaving me looking rather silly umming and arring. Still, it turned out OK in the end as the children were far more interested in my relationship with my girlfriend (who is Japanese) than all the history of England.

I've been feeling quite guilty all day today. I've killed 5 spiders in the last 36 hours. I wouldn't normally, but I've been painting The Dungeon bright yellow in an attempt to make it warmer, and in the process hoovering up lots of cobwebs. Oh, and then when washing the brush afterwards I killed two huge fly-things with big long legs. I actually watched them drown, and feel quite bad about it as they'd been living in that sink for three days - I was quite attached to them having watched them dodge the water when I brushed my teeth. I was about to give them names and everything...

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Saturday 18th May 2002 - 22:21(GMT+9) Niseko, Japan

Me Myself and I.

Several days a week I don't even step outside the house.

My dungeon is quite cosy now with the bright walls and thick rugs. My Lego men are good listeners.

The radio plays constant acid-jazz with no talk. Either that or 24 hour bird song. One station I occasionally flick to is particularly bizarre - non-stop sound effects from that of crashing waves to the swing of a cat-flap. It all adds to my madness.

My Keitai rings. It's Kae calling from Italy. It's difficult and the distance puts a general dampener on my spirits, but I feel that our bond is strong. It gives me strength.

I want to be here. I want to learn Japanese. There are no distractions here, except for the sound of a swinging cat-flap.

I have never been so isolated, and I appreciate the experience. Kleine Scheidegg was a metropolis in comparison.

I feel guilty writing what some people may find uncomfortably negative, but I want to share my feelings. I personally find it quite interesting to read another's thoughts and feelings, no matter what spirit they were penned in.

I've been here three weeks and I'm planning to stay for another fourteen. It does concern me that I may become depressed - that idea scares me. It's been a long long time.

Sleep is my release. But my dreams have been mad - toothpaste has featured heavily and I've no idea why.

I'm very excited about seeing my family and friends in September. I got my wedding invitation yesterday.

There's another gaijin joining us tomorrow. Adam, from America. He'll stay a couple of weeks to study traditional Japanese cuisine, and Morris dancing too although he doesn't know that yet...

Oyasumi nasai (good night) xx

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Tuesday 21st May 2002 - 21:47(GMT+9) Niseko, Japan

The day-before-yesterday I went to my local onsen again, just a minute up the road. It's really beautiful now as over the past few days the trees have burst into full leaf. It's so nice to sit in that huge outdoor volcanic bath, with the sun shining down and the birds singing. I'd really like to get a photo of it for you so you can see for yourself, but for obvious reasons cameras and onsens don't exactly go hand in hand!

Anyhow, whilst I was sitting on the big flat rock in the middle of the pool, I thought over what I could do to prevent a trip down the slippery slide into depression. What I needed was motivation of some sort.

One thought led to another, until I came to the conclusion that if I really buried myself in studying the Japanese language, then I'd be too busy to think about much else. As a result, I came up with the following form, which I then printed out and now fill in on a daily basis. Here's the results so far.

Joseph's Japanese Study Program

I hereby declare that I will spend a MINIMUM of 1 hour EVERY day studying Japanese with the aid of my textbooks. There are NO EXCUSES!

Date and Time
Comments
What I learnt

Sunday 19th May 2002

18:00 - 18:15

Started a lesson in my book Japanese for Busy People. Soon managed to find an excuse to stop when realising that it was vitally important that I send my friend an email from my mobile phone that very second, only to discover that I'd left my phone at the onsen up the road, thus bringing my study hour to an easy close after 15 minutes.

Don't leave your phone at an onsen if you want to learm Japanese.

Do leave your phone at an onsen if you want a good excuse to stop studying..

Monday 20th May 2002

15:30 - 15:50

Started going through my list of the 260 new words that I've been learning over the past two weeks. Was so tired that I fell asleep no less than 4 times whilst sitting on the floor with the piece of paper in my hand. I was woken each time by the carpet hitting my head . The words "sennuki" (corkscrew), "minsupai" (mince pie), "komoriuta" (lullaby) and "yubinuki" (thimble) were particulary problematic being very sleep-inducing. Gave up and went to bed after 20 minutes. Don't study Japanese when sitting on a hard surface. A bed is preferable.

Tuesday 21st May 2002

21:00 - 22:15

Thought that a drink would go down nicely with my studies today, but having downed a couple of beers decided that writing this was far more important and that there is always time tomorrow for learning Japanese.

Drinking beer tends to have a negative impact on studying, but is much more enjoyable.

As you can see from the above, my new plan is proving to be an enourmous success. Sort of.

I must say though, it's done wonders for my spirit. I'm excited!

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Thursday 23rd May 2002 - 12:15(GMT+9) Niseko, Japan

Joseph's return to the dance stage met with thunderous applause
(he complains of sore hands afterwards)

Having recieved a special request a couple of days ago for a demonstration of traditional English Morris Dancing, yesterday Adam and I went about creating our own steps which we could easily teach to our 20 guests. The result was quite spectacular, with everyone having bells strapped to their legs whilst bashing sticks together.

click here for more photos
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I'm pretty sure it was absolutley nothing like the Morris dancing that you might find in England. That's one of the reasons why I like living abroad - you can get away with all sorts of things!

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Sunday 26th May 2002 - 18:31(GMT+9) Niseko, Japan

This Japanese study is driving us nuts. Adam and I are spending several hours a day with our heads in our text books, trying to get at least a basic understanding of this crazy language!

I've finally dared to open my book of Kanji (the most difficult of the three Japanese alphabets compromised of literally thousands of characters). Now I know why it's been shut until now. To the right you see the characters that I've been learning today.

Writing the characters themselves isn't actually that difficult, it's remembering the three million different meanings that every one has.

Take the one at the bottom: Meanings include "divide", "portion", "minute", "understand" "segment", "share", "degree", "one's lot", "duty", "know", "rate", "1%", "chances". It's then used with other characters to create many more words; my little dictionary lists over 75.

What else am I doing? Hhmm, most days follow the same pattern:

7:00 woken up by singing phone/alarm clock
7:30 start work. This is the time when I burn myself on hot baking trays and so on.
8:00 having served breakfast, eat mine with Eiko, Adam and the owner (they don't eat mine though, they also have their own)
9:00 having finished the washing up, clean all the guest rooms and bathrooms
11:30 study Japanese
16:00 stop studying and start work, preparing the evening meal, whilst using my new words on my patient colleagues.
19:30 eat dinner then start cleaning up
22:00 finish work. Check emails. Study Japanese
00:40 fall asleep with a list of Japanese words in my hand.

Today I remembered that it's possible to listen to the radio via the internet, and therefore I am now feeling all funny having just listened to the omnibus edition of The Archers from the BBC in London. It's shocking how exciting life in rural England is.

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Wednesday 29th May 2002 - 11:31(GMT+9) Niseko, Japan

click for more photos click for more photos click for more photos

If you're going to Sapporo for the big match, you can't afford to miss out on the tour of Japan's oldest brewery. Owned by Sapporo beer (one of the world's best beers), the tour gives you a unique insight into the making of beer - oh, and there's the small bonus of free tasting afterwards!

Our guide was only speaking Japanese, but we'd been given headsets and walkmans so we knew what was going on. Initially I thought that my batteries were going flat as I could only hear this slow, Herman Munster voice mumbling in a bizarre fashion. When I realised that in fact he was for real, I couldn't help but laugh... and then laugh a bit more, and then more loudly until Adam and I could no longer walk for fear of wetting ourselves. The Japanese tourists looked on in amusement as we fell to the floor whilst trying to stifle our hysterics.

When it came to the tasting, we were told that the bar would be open for twenty minutes, and if we wanted another beer we were just to ask. After 16 minutes I was having trouble making the 10 metre trip in a straight line, and found it difficult to wipe the huge smile off my face.

When that bar shut, we made our way to the huge beer hall next door, where we chose the "Eat and drink as much as you like" menu. The food was just fantastic - we had a little hotplate on the table which we used to cook our slices of pork ...whilst downing beer after beer.

I don't remember leaving the factory - the next thing I do remember is buying a pot of yellow paint in a large department store - but I don't know what I did with it as I can't find it amongst all the junk I brought home last night. I also remember calling my girlfriend in Italy from my mobile phone at least ten times (I always start making international calls after I've had a few). Adam bought a ridiculously expensive bottle of wine... and then we found ourselves being given pizza and wine by a couple of middle-aged ladies in anice restaurant. Not quite sure how that situation came about, but it was great pizza nonetheless.

When we met the owner, he told us that he was taking us for a meal. Ten minutes later we noticed that we were heading for the beer factory once again, where, once again, we had "Eat and drink as much as you like". I think I behaved myself, although I do remember telling the girls at the reception how sexy they looked in their uniforms.

This morning for some reason I was up at 7am, without a hangover and feeling in need of taking some photos. So I did.

I suppose I'd better sort through everything that I bought yesterday. ...hhhmm.... A pair of white gloves? A dried squid? A bicycle-no-parking-zone-sticker? What on earth was I thinking...?

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