Trip Start Feb 22, 2005
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Thursday, February 23, 2006

Impossible to believe though it is, I have been in Japan for exactly one year now.

Yep, 365 days ago I stepped of a plane at Narita airport, bewildered and exhausted, excited and nervous, and not a little unstable after an aerial roller coaster that JAL had the audacity to label an "approach and landing". 364 days ago, I woke up on a bit of foam 2cm above a hard wooden floor, in an apartment that would make a naval submarine's living quarters look "quite roomy", and stepped into a country where I didn't speak or read the language, and where almost no one spoke mine all that well. Schoolgirls giggled, policemen chuckled, waitresses snickered, and then ran after me to return change I had left as a tip. I swear I even saw the corners of local officials' mouths twitch upwards as I stumbled through the myriad bureaucratic processes of registering as an "alien".

359 days ago I began teaching English to my first ever students, having begun training a whole six hours previously. Their puzzled looks remain with me 359 days later, probably etched into memory by their repetition on the faces of countless others on a daily basis since. "British accent"..."overly-wordy"..."crap teacher" - students are always making excuses...

355 days ago I first taught at Yoga, my home school from then on. Since then students at fourteen other schools have endured the pleasure of my company at one time or another, and some of my regular students at Yoga might wish it had been a hell of a lot more.

353 days ago I first attended a karaoke session, Japanese style. And I don't even need to begin talking about the chain of disastrous consequences for my credibility that that night began. Too many of the intervening days have been spent asleep until 4 or 5pm, then wondering just how rational human beings could force themselves to "sing" for that long the previous night and never once question whether it might be a good idea.

And given that I cannot work out how-many-days-ago anything else important happened, I'll say that as of 1 day ago, I still had not worked out how many times to bow in what situation with whom and how deeply, how people can put potato or fried egg on pizza, how Tokyo's homeless can afford to never beg, how shop staff can apologise for not serving me better despite my saying thank you very much, how students learned the non-existent English phrase "go to shopping", how much my flatmate Bob hates Michael Moore, how perfect a miracle the Japanese transport system is, or how wasabi can be so popular in a country of such well-educated people. And as for the difference between ni, de and he...

The past year has been so much fun, I think it is fair to say that I absolutely love it here. Japan is brilliant. Confusing at times, but brilliant.

There have been too many highlights to mention over the past twelve months, and some I probably can't remember. More than too many, therefore. I'm not going to describe them. Instead there are a few photos at the top of this page that are amongst my favourites from the year past.

And finally, with no outstanding or hilarious anecdotes with which to sum up the year, I wanted to share the following. You see, teaching English to non-English speakers sometimes provides the rather unprofessional amusement of unfortunate slips by students. In much the way my own Japanese can induce hysterics, befuddlement, or embarrassment, so, occasionally, do my students provide moments like these:

During introductions with a junior high school student:

Me: What's your favourite subject at school?
Student: Watching TV.

In a shopping roleplay:

Me: I'm looking for a new TV
Student: How much do you want to spend?
Me: About five hundred pounds.
Student: How about this one? It's thirty million pounds.

Discussing job skills:

Me: What do you need to be able to do to be a cook?
Student: Paint.

Students often confuse "cook", "cock" and "coke" as well as appropriate verbs for particular actions. From a roleplay about future goals, with a high school student:

Student: I'm thinking of applying for a position in China.
Me: Really? Wow. What job will you do?
Student: I want to do coke in a Chinese restaurant.

Further confusion always arises from the pronunciation of "L" and "R". A student was telling me about appropriate behaviour at a Shinto shrine:

Student: You should throw your money into the right place, step back and crap twice.

Discussing health advice with a very high-level health professional:

Me: What advice would you give to someone who drinks a lot?
Student: I would suggest you eat a big meal before you start.

Another teacher with a student discussing stereotypes of countries:

Teacher: So what is there in Canada?
Student: [Pause approaching a minute]... A big wall.

In a restaurant roleplay:

Me: What would you like for your entree?
Student: I'll have the roast chicken please.
Me: And for dessert?
Student: I'd like bacon cheesecake, please.

In another restaurant roleplay:

Me: What would you like for dessert?
Student: I'll have the apple pie, please.
Me: Would you like that with cream or ice cream?
Student: Ice cream, please.
Me: And would you like the pie hot or cold?
Student: I'd like the apple pie hot and the ice cream cold, please.

Discussing appropriacy of language:

Me: So, who would say this, a tourist or a local person?
Student: A terrorist.

Another teacher with a student discussing TV viewing habits:

Teacher: [Points at a picture] What do you think this person likes to watch on TV?
Student: Er, he looks like a nice guy. I like nice guys.

Like I said, I love Japan. Here's to another year.
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japanesewhisper on

Absolutely Love it!
Love your little snipets of life teaching the Japanese English, hilarious and so so so so true!

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