What an insane week! So much went on I can’t even believe that it is Tuesday. I will start from where I left off in my last post I guess.
After working from Monday to Friday, I had to come in Saturday to help set up for Sports Day (Undokai is what it is called) which was Sunday. Basically, I woke up in the morning and couldn’t understand why I was up, at 6am, to go to work. So annoying! But I got my bum out of bed and cycled to work, where I basically sat around and did nothing. This was because it was POURING rain out. So I arrive to school looking like a drowned rat (no amount of rain gear can stop typhoon wind and rain from soaking you to the bone) only to find out that because of the rain today consists of basically a bunch of speeches in the gym given to the students so they have an idea of what will be happening at undokai. “Where does this leave me?” I ask my JTE. He tells me I don’t have to sit in the gym and listen because it is all in Japanese (duh) and I don’t understand (thanks). So I sit at my desk. Alone. And do nothing. The only upside to this incredibly boring situation was that I got to take some pictures of the work area, and the school, so you guys can see where I go everyday! This only occured to me as Tara (hey gooogs!) had pointed out that I failed to include pictures of my general everyday surroundings in this blog. These photos can be seen in better quality on my flickr.
This is where you take off your outdoor shoes and put on your indoor shoes. This is the teachers wall, the students are on the other side. Mine is the far right column, second down.
The teachers office! My desk is the one right there on the right, with my phone out on it, and the colourful nametag I was making.
I gave the kids a little self introduction questionnaire to fill out my first day and in one class there was a special needs student, so there was an adult aid there to help him out so he also filled out one, and his responses were HILARIOUS. The famous Japanese name he mentions is a TV show about a man who is married to a woman who beats him! oh god! I didn’t know how to respond so I drew that sad face…
As lunch time finally rolls around, the principal at my school is sitting at his desk, watching me do nothing. Now let me explain the role of the principal, because it is totally different than what we think. In Japan, the principal is like, the leader. He is the Alpha. You don’t even call him by his name, you only call him by PRINCIPAL. Except in Japanese it’s Kocho-sensei. Everything has to be approved through him, but he does none of the work. Everything he wants done gets passed down to the vice principal, who basically has to hand out the jobs to whoever needs to do them. No teacher dares question what the Kocho-sensei says or does. Anyway, eventually he approaches me and (as he was once and English teacher we can communicate, so this is good) he asks, “What are you doing here?” and my only response is “I don’t know”. Then I realize how poor that sounds so I say “I am here today just in case anyone needs any help.” This was the only thing I could think of on the spot, and basically just states that I am only here because I was told to come, and have no general purpose. So he tells me “why don’t you just go home”. THANK GOD. It was hilariously awkward, because I quickly pack up my stuff, and am about to “shitsurei shimas” (basically excuse myself from the working day to peace out home) but as he is the only one there, and he has already told me to leave, I am not sure if I have to do my little “osaki ni shitsurei shimas” (“I apologize for leaving early”), as he told me to go. But I figure he is the principal so I better. So I turn to do my little bow and as I start he just sort of waves me off, like I am some sort of annoying fly. Works for me though, since I don’t have to spend another 4 hours hanging around completely useless. I get home, but there is basically nothing for me to do, as it is pouring rain, and I don’t have internet, and I have watched all movies and TV shows I brought at least 4 times over. Another boring afternoon, but better than sitting at a desk I suppose.
So Sunday rolls around, and I have to wake up at 6 am just in case my JTE calls me to tell me undokai is cancelled (I assumed it would be because it had rained so much yesterday), but lo and behold, the clouds had parted, and it was a beautiful day Sunday! So I put on my sports clothes and head to work for my First Undokai Experience! Woo! It was actually a GREAT day! So much fun! There were a bunch of events, from relay races to three legged races, from tug-of-war to jump rope! The girls put on a dance, the boys made human pyramids! It was insane! Due to the insane legal code Japan has, I am unable to show you pictures that include any children’s faces unless I have permission from their parents, which I don’t, so I cannot PUBLICLY put them up. So I can’t post any cool videos on here. Just trust me, it was insane. I actually got unexpectedly dragged out on the field to compete in a sort of relay race with the kids. They had to flip over these cards and on it was written peoples names (apparently mine) and the kids had to find this person and then complete the rest of the activities with them. So I am casually watching and taking pictures, and suddenly all the kids around me are screaming “RACHEL SENSEI!! RACHEL SENSEI!!” and I realize these two kids are running towards me waving at me! So I run out on the field, take their hands, and we run at the speed of light to finish – and we won! Woo! It was hilarious! I also have befriended the dance teacher, this male teacher who has a mullet and wears sick crazy patterned pants that are multicoloured and anklets.. and is basically is just hilarious… however he doesn’t speak a word of English and due to my lack of Japanese we basically just stand around each other in silence but are best friends. He approaches me and says, “come with me” and drags me by the hand out to the field and passes me this gun (not a real gun, I assume, but like, you fire it and it makes a big bang and it signals the start of the event), and tells me I am to start the next event! As I have never even touched anything that ever resembled a gun before, and I am amongst many small children, I am extremely nevous. He procedes to hand me a mircrophone, and startings rambling in Japanese at me. I am in the middle of the field with a bunch of people staring at me, and a Japanese man talking at me, and I am just thinking to myself, “what is going on?” Then he goes silent. Everyone is staring at me. He backs away. I assume this is when I am supposed to fire this gun off, and as I look around the crowd I have one of those moments that I have while I am here sometimes that is this overwhelming sense of “HOW DID I GET HERE RIGHT NOW?” I can’t explain it, but every once and a while, usually when I am alone, I get this intense feeling that is basically just an overwhelming realization that I am in Japan. Alone. Holding a gun. So I raise it to the air, shout in the mircophone “READY? SET…” and fire that bad boy. WOO! Cheers, and shouts erupt and the kids all run out to the field. The mullet man comes back, smiles, and claps his hands, and then takes the microphone and gun from me and off we go back into the crowd. Oh Japan.
So at the end of the day, after we all pack up the tents, put away all the chairs and pack everything back up – its ENKAI time! Enkai means party, and this one is in celebration of undokai, and will occur at a Chinese restaurant in the city. I am given a map and told the party starts at 7:30 so I quickly cycle home, shower, and then am off to catch the train! I arrive right on time, and am seated next to my female JTE and the party begins. It’s all you can eat and all you can drink, and ends up being quite the interesting experience. Japanese parties are so different than Canadian ones. Although I guess I can’t say I have technically ever been to a work party in the same sense at home. Anyway, the night starts with a bunch of speeches, as each teacher recalls their day, makes jokes, and talks in Japanese (ha). In Japan, you do not refill your own cup, but refill only others. It is interesting because as the night progressed, people would grab bottles of beer or tea and walk around the room and refill others glasses as an excuse to come around and talk to people. It was so interesting! People I have never spoken to before would come around and refill my glass of beer. It was actually hilarious because as soon as I walked in the room, I was treated so differently than I usually am. For example, the teacher that sits next to me in the office is the music teacher. He is young, and I was told my the guy who worked at my schools last year that he is good fun, and they were friends. However, this teacher has yet to even look at me. I was upset by this at first, becasuse I could always use another friend in the office, but I actually seem to scare this guy. But as soon as I sit down in the restaurant, I hear “Excuse me Rachel” and I turn around and it’s HIM! He pours me some more beer and then scurries off, but I thought that was hilarious because in the office even if I go out of my way to try to talk to him he is gone at the speed of light! Everyone is drinking, having a good time… I see my male JTE chugging a beer straight from the bottle in the corner of the room. My vice principle at one point is hanging like a monkey from the ceiling, legs up like he is hanging from a tree branch. Clearly everyone has had a few. I think I have drank the same amount as these people (did I mention that Asians cannot hold their liquor? This is just a fact. They have told me this. It is so hilarious). I am pretty much dead sober having had only 3 or 4 GLASSES of beer (and glasses, in Japan, are not what we consider glasses. Its like, mini glasses. Probably a third of the size of a beer glass in Canada). But I enjoy watching everyone having a good time. Then everyone starts telling me about what they all think of me. That was … interesting. I didn’t know how to respond. I was told at first I seemed not as friendly as I didn’t talk a lot (hello, I AM IN JAPAN BY MYSELF – I was nervous! I explain this and they say they understand), and they tell me they like me more now as I am more outgoing and talkative (my usual self I suppose). Apparantly the teachers all had lessons with their students which revolved around them all discussion what they thought of me. As I am the first female English teacher this school as had (the previous two JETs were male), I get an interesting response. I am told that the girls all want to dye their hair blonde now. One of the teachers has a student who goes to the school and apparently he and all of his friends are “in love with me” (his words, not mine) and I was the topic of an entire dinner conversation at his house. I assume this is that group of boys that shout “GOOD BYE RACHEL, I LOVE YOU” every time I cycle away from school in the afternoon. I am surprised to hear all this, as the kids are actually quite shy around me (although the teachers usually are too, apparently unless they have a few beers – but I can’t very well give the kids beer).
After the party is over (about 10) there is to be a second party, but I decide to skip out on this one, as I have made plans to meet up with some other ALTs who also had their work enkais today. Upon hearing this mullet teacher becomes upset, and grabs my hand and yells “GIRLFRIEND” and tries to grab me and take me to karaoke. My JTE (drunkenly) steps in and tells me to call him if we want to come (my friends are welcome to join) and he will tell us where they are. It was hilarious to say the least. And, as I am told, everything will go back to normal the next day I go to work, as if none of this ever happened. Such a hilarious night.
So I depart from this party, and head out to meet my other ALT friends down the street. We meet up and start walking down the street, off to find another bar, when we stumble across a friend named Kelly who happens to be a clown in the Kinoshita Circus that is in town. A couple of friends previously met her at a baseball game (she is from Texas) and obviously struck up a conversation as we are noticeable foreigners. We met her again (I was there this time) at the other baseball game and she is always good for a chat. We see her on the street with a bunch of other Japanese kids, and they are all juggling. So we stop in and decide we want to learn to juggle too. Apparently our friend Katie can already juggle (we did not know this) so Kelly starts to teach her to juggle with the pins (those things that look like bowling ball pins). We spend a couple hours here, and the Japanese kids are quite nice. They own all this juggling equipment and practice every Sunday night and tell us we are welcome to come practice and learn with them and use their equipment. Love it! I manage to learn how to juggle with two of the pins, thanks to Kelly! Its tricky to get the rhythm and the technique right but I want to stick with it and learn, it will be a neat party trick! Kelly tells us that we should come to the circus tomorrow, and to drop her name at the ticket booth and perhaps we can get some good seats! We head out, go to a bar, have another drink, and due to PURE EXHAUSTION of the long day and week that is behind us, head home to go to bed (I have missed my last train, so head back with Catherine to her house to crash).
The next morning I have to wake up early, as I have to come back to my apartment to get INTERNET! The Kaz’s (two Japanese friends of ours, the girl works at the BOE but we have all grown really tight with her and she helps us out with everything! She is amazing! Her and her husband are the cutest couple ever, and both their names start with “Kaz” hence the nicknames: Big Kaz and Little Kaz, or the Kaz’s as a couple haha). They drive me back to my apartment where the internet guys are already waiting to set me up! Perfect! I get internet, and then the Kaz’s me and the guy who lives in my apartment (and worked at my schools last year, named Matt) all go out to lunch. I mention that we are going to the circus in the afternoon and Matt decides to come along. Then we drive back to the city and meet up with the Catherine and Katie to go to the circus! Catherine went to pick up the tickets earlier, and apparently, upon dropping Kelly’s name at the ticket booth, we got great tickets (upgraded to better seats) for FREE! Amazing! We head into the circus where the show was spectacular. Lions and zebra’s and giraffe’s OH MY! We see Kelly preforming (she comes out between the acts to keep everyone entertained) and at one point comes into the crowd, where we are sitting. She is trying to get volunteers to come into the ring for something, but being shy Japanese people, everyone refuses. After struggling with the crowd for a while, she notices us, and runs over! “Thank god!” she says. She notices Matt and apparently is looking for males to do this trick in the ring, so she says “Is he with you girls? Can I borrow him? I am bombing out here!” So we shout “OF COURSE!” But Matt is not having it, he’s like “no, no, no thanks. sorry” but we are like “go! she’s our friend don’t worry!” so he eventually caves and follows her out to the ring. Now that she has one participant, others willingly come along (4 boys in total) and they go out and preform a few funny tricks with her in the ring, and are done! Easy! When Matt gets back to his seat he turns to us and says “I should have warned you guys, I have a fear of clowns!” …. hahahahahahah
After the show is over, we see Kelly, so we run down and tell her it was a great show! She tells us to wait here and she’ll take us backstage! So we do, and she comes around and takes us BEHIND THE SCENES AT JAPAN’S MOST FAMOUS CIRCUS! Oh my god it was AMAZING! We get to see the zebra’s and the giraffe up close (its raining so due to the puddles we couldn’t get right up to the gate – Kelly tells us to give her a call later and we can come back and pet them – !!!!!! – when its not raining). Then she shows us where they keep the elephants, the lions, and we meet some of the performers. We hear stores about when the ring of death guys fell out of the ring of death and nearly died. We hear about when the lions once stopped the show because a couple of them decided to fight in the middle of the ring, effectively stalling the show for a few hours until they quit. We learn about the rig they use, how its from 1910, and so old that when engineers came to see it once they said “do you know how dangerous this thing is?” In the dressing room, I notice a sign that hangs proudly above the mirror. It reads: “Why use logic when you have tradition?”
At the end of the tour, us amazed observers have no choice but to head to a bar, have some beers, and absorb the amazing experience we just had. I can’t help but think what an amazing life these performers live. They totally defy all traditional ideas of what a life should be like. They live in trailers, travel the world, doing what they love, all by their own rules. I make a promise to myself to take a page from their book, and always do what I want, making my own rules and living my own life. It’s corny, I know, but seeing their lifestyle really gets one thinking.
So that was my weekend. Eventful, to say the least. I really hope things never slow down, and we continue to have days where we are completely surprised and in awe of what we see and do. The possibilities are endless, so bring it on, adventure!