Friday, 2 December 2005

One of the 課長 from the 役場 just came into the office and talked at length with me and my supervisor about 国際交流
Apart from putting me in a socially awkward position by taking the mickey out of やこちゃん, he tried to convince me that the Japanese intestine is longer than the 外人 one, which is why the traditional Japanese diet is more vegetarian (and proposed it as a theory why i have become vegetarian - due to eating lots of Japanese food, which has obviously made my intestine longer). This was based on a theory (which i believe) that as human intestines are comparitively long for the animal kingdom, we are naturally more suited to a vegetarian diet.
Anyway, thanks to mutant frog for starting to clear up some of the 日本人論 issues and allowing me to leave the computer and live a bit more of my wintry existence!
(why don't we hibernate, by the way?)

Incidentally, if that guy hadn't come into the office, i might have actually got some work done...


I step out of my apartment and sniff the air. Winter has arrived. The feeling of the day is grey in that way which says “I’m not going to get warm until March!”
I walk across the carpark to a soundtrack of chirping birds. Open the door. Step into the warm office. I say “Good Morning” instead of おはようございます because last month the town mayor asked that I speak English from now on instead of Japanese. This has created interesting currents of communication in the office.
I slip my timecard into the time machine, which reads 9:16 .. I am technically one minute late. Saying good morning to 中家さん, I sit down at my desk, on which today’s edition of The Japan Times is lying as usual. The headline reads, “Slowing Atlantic Current Threatens Europe”. I immediately think I’ll have none of this scaremongering!” The article describes the movements of the Gulf Stream, but also includes phrases like “European continent could be plunged into bitter winter” and mentions "the 2004 Hollywood movie ‘The Day After Tomorrow’". Although the article says that the effects would not be as sudden as those in the movie, the mere mention of this film is surely likely to forge a link with any fear lingering in the mind of the reader. Ironically, at the very top of the page, above the words “The Japan Times” is written, “ALL THE NEWS WITHOUT FEAR OR FAVOUR”. If this is the newspaper’s aim, then how can its editors justify the placement of an intentionally fear-instilling article mere centimeters below it? OK, maybe we have the right to know what scientific reports have been published, but to have a headline like that (which is likely to make people who read it, especially Europeans, feel somewhat threatened) at the top of the front page is blatant scaremongering.

Monday, 21 November 2005


I have just been up at a fruit farm in the hills picking oranges with the yochien kids. I’ve never done orange picking before – I picked over 150 oranges! The weather was superb, and from the orange farm we could see all the way back down to 吉富, and even over the sea as far as 姫島, and 山口県. Also, the altitude gave us an interesting different view of 八面山.
I would be extremely happy if I had an orange tree. Or lived near a public one. Most of the trees we were picking from today had at least 100 oranges on – and they’d already been picked from. So a single largish orange tree would probably supply most of my personal yearly orange supply. Cool!
Incidentally, I wonder why we don’t have public fruit trees. Trees that aren’t owned by anyone, but you can just take whatever fruit you want as and when it appears. It would be like a vending machine, perhaps with a box for donations towards upkeep. There could be whole orchards of such trees, to provide a selection of fruits all year round!

Saturday, 19 November 2005

expression repression

5pmish 19/11/05 Have just been banned from playing my recorder on a train. (I started whistling straight after, as the tunes coming into my mind had to be expressed, but...) This is abominable! Music is the language of the soul! How can the soul be limited by a train conductor?! What kind of repressed country is this?! Presumably if I were to ask why, the answer would be 「他のお客様に迷惑なのです。」 At which I would ask the other passengers, if it was, indeed, 迷惑. And if any of them actually admitted to being annoyed by my recorder playing, I would feel sad for a country where people are repressed to the extent that they can’t even ask someone nicely if they’ll play a little quieter or in a different carriage (or not at all). Ideally, everyone else in the carriage would join in, and we could have a multiple soulful expression session!
Am I being culturally intolerant? Or are they being culturally intolerant?

(ok, so I’m probably going thru a slight “annoyed with Japan” phase. Which doesn’t mean I’m not enjoying myself.)

Tuesday, 15 November 2005

tree update

The leaves on the tree outside the toilet are golden orangey yellow in the sun...

... and rustic deep red in the shade.

the sky is blue
the sun is shining
(all this may seem like a cliché, but it's actually true so why not write it?)
the clouds are big and impressive (on the rare occasions i get to see them reflected in the windows of another part of the building)

and in spite of having 101 things to remember and 51 things to do and at least 21 distractions, (and in spite of wanting to go for a walk instead of sitting here glued to this screen) i am content and peaceful.

there is an origami rendition of santa claus staring down at me from the door of a metal cupboard.
kkinda scary
also, there is a large family of green magnets on the door next to him (13 green, 3 blue ones).

why aren't there forests everywhere?
and why don't kids like raisins?
(i've had to compromise on the christmas cake for the kids' Christmas party because apparently kids don't like raisins so we're doing chocolate cake instead... / but this doesn't mean i can't make my own christmas cake! and it doesn't stop me from making brownies tonight!)

i am sort of sleepy, but also feeling like i'm in several different moods at once. which is kind of nice......
i wanna paint and dance and fly and float around ....

people keep asking me to do stuff (or more accurately reminding me that there is stuff i have to do for them)

and i have just been handed a fish-paste sausage type thing to eat with noodles.

this morning I did a spontaneous chalkboard maze game at the yochien. It turned out to be a 4-dimensional maze (technically 3 dimensions, 'cos there was no in or out) due to walls appearing and disappearing randomly to give the blue team a chance to catch up with the pink team and the green team. As for the yellow team, they went down a cul-de sac all the way to the end, before going back and being rescued by the other teams, who by that time had gorged themselves silly on ice cream.
It worked well and most of the kids got the hang of the direction thing.

At the end of the lesson, i started removing the magnets from the board, and casually remarked "aisu curiimu tabeyouya" - and was suddenly overwhelmed by an unexpected wave of kids who came to wipe the chalk off the board. This job can be awesome!

Sunday, 13 November 2005

at the weekend i ... (Sunday)

went paragliding!
At 塚原!
Actually it was parawaiting, 'cos the wind was in the wrong direction for that particular hill.
(in Wales, we'd just go to another hill, but we didn't do that here...)
so i climbed a tree, slept outside on someone else's rollmat (the people 糸長さん had arranged a lift for me with), and managed to get a bit of ground handling in before going back to 糸長さん's place for spaghetti!

i was going to cook brownies in the evening, but ended up drawing instead.

Creativity is bursting thru me muchly.
Which is a good thing! or so i believe.

and at some point i finished reading the Silmarillion.

Saturday, 12 November 2005

at the weekend i ... (Saturday)

had a lie-in.

I was then late for kids club (due to having thought it was at 1:30 instead of 1:00) which consisted of juggling and storytelling - the kids tried to make the stories as scary as possible (and there were 2 kids who didn't say a word the whole time - how do you get kids to be spontaneous? Especially when they're already a good few years into the Japanese schooling system? those two are, however, the best jugglers in the group, so silence does have its perks...)

After that a bunch of other kids who i teach came to my door wanting to play, and i was just going out rollerblading. So they came into my (totally untidy) appartment, said it was dirty and smelled (of pizza - not sure why - maybe the olives and italian herbs?) and i fed them peanuts nd chewing gum to encourage them to leave, and we all went cycling (me rollerblading) along the riverbank. And they said where are you going? and i said "here! the riverbank! to rollerblade!"
I sat and watched the sunset (while they unsuccessfully tried to persuade me to continue twice the distance to a shopping centre) before rolling back.
And they came with me to the supermarket when i went shopping (still on rollerblades) and managed to persuade me to buy them drinks. I was looking for brownie ingredients (decent chocolate for cooking is rare and expensive here) and the kids snuck some sweets into my shopping basket when i wasn't looking... (i kinda thought they would do that) ... the joys of life, eh?
In the evening, i phoned 糸長さん which led on to the events of Sunday.

Tuesday, 25 October 2005


i just thought of a new word which doesn't/shouldn't exist:

anyone got any idea what it means (or doesn't mean?)

Wednesday, 12 October 2005

Post- Mountain Hermitage Life

I did title this entry:
Office life (What a boring title)

but thought it somewhat boring so changed it.

in short,

I really don't like being stuck in an office.
(and i have been living up in the mountains for 2 days, although i meant it to be 3)

in long,

Who first had the ridiculous idea that an office is conducive to effective work?
And who had the equally ridiculous idea that we should stay in the office (? to maximize work time?) ...
i could rant about this all day, which would even further seriously diminish my effective wrk time.

apart from school visits, my only respite from the office environment is the odd trip to the loo. I value these trips immensely. While standing there peeing, i can see over the top of the cubicle and out the window, to the trees. And i can learn a lot from what i see. If the tree is moving, it is windy. If the tree is still, it is not. (it's fun when there's a typhoon blowing, but the window is usually closed at such times). Between the leaves/branches, i can see if the sky is blue or not. (it is today!) And one of the most amazing things about seeing the same tree day in day out is watching the seasons change! I remember (or at least imagine i can remember) back in the winter when there were no leaves. And I definitely remember one day when i suddenly thought "hey! the tree is bushy with many leaves! It is truly summer!"
Today, the tree's leaves are still fairly plentiful, which allows only some of the bright blue sky to show through. Some of the leaves are smaller, curling up, and gradually turning brown. hey are moving a fair amount - but the branches are still. So the next typhoon is not here yet.

Back in the office: the energy down here is flat, dull and grey (still no plants except a couple of bushes outside the window, partially visible thru the half-closed blind) whereas up in the mountains, the energy is all pointy and green and interesting! even when it's misty and you can't see anything, you can shout and it will echo off the mountains. Nothing echoes through the office fog except the non-ceasing hum of the computers/photocopier etc. I thought of the mountain echoes this morning when teaching 9 and 10 year-olds the Mulberry Bush song. I was shouting out the actions "This is the way we brush our teeth!" etc, and i suddenly realized it was echoing off the wall of the room. It crossed my mind how different the experience would be (and how much more lively and energized the kids would be) if we were up in the mountains doing the same activity.

I found, in the mountains, what may be the ultimate echo place.

The first echo comes from a little rocky shoulder to my left. Then from another similar shoulder just below it and a bit further away. Then, after a second and a half (!!!) the echo pans around from slightly left of the centre to the far right, as the other side of the valley gets further away and slopes down towards the real world. (i may even have heard a subsequent echo from somewhere even further!) Here's the diagram i drew in my diary, with a Google Earth screenshot below:

The place i was a hermit in is the red-roofed mountain refuge hut slightly to the right of the middle of the bottom of this picture, which i took last time from the summit of Kujuu:

The hut is at a confluence of several hiking paths and makes a good place for a picnic stop, so on Monday, i had several people unbeknowingly wandering through my bedroom...

Tuesday, 13 September 2005


i was just asked for the first time ever what i was doing while sitting at the computer. I was actually looking at this blog, albeit a text part of it. But the question addressed to me turned out to be rhetorical, as the lady who asked looked at the screen, noticed it smothered in English, and giggled, "I wouldn't have a clue even if i looked!"
i do have things to do,and am doing them ... gradually ... i jsut happen to be doing a lot of other things as well (e.g. procrastinating, websurfing, etc...)

If anyone is actually reading this, please let me know! I will (i promise) fill in (some of)the gaps ... eventually...

Wednesday, 7 September 2005

taifuu (lack thereof)

Well, the 台風 seems to have blown away.
So it's back to normal (whatever normal means)

Tuesday, 6 September 2005

台風 part 2

Well, typhoon #14 blew all night, getting stronger and stronger, and when i awoke in the morning, it was wild and wildening outside, and we still hadn't been reached by the main part of the storm (big red blob on TV map).

As well as being very big, this typhoon is very slow-moving. Which means that the strong winds and heavy rain hang around for a while! I wonder if everyhting will be cancelled tomorrow as well...

The office is abuzz with people taking actions of various sorts, occasionally rushing outside to secure a bit of something that has blown loose, and slightly fretting about the comfort of the refugees, who are steadily trickling in. Tempers fray from time to time, amid discussions of such things as the relevance (or otherwise) of who wants what kind of packed lunch, etc.

The small television in the wall behind me is blaring a constant running report of the current state of various parts of Kyushu and Shikoku. i am sure that the constant noise generated by this is not helping to de-stress the environment at all.
The news report includes information about who has been injured by the typhoon, but i wonder how different the figures would be if there was such a report on injuries sustained every day regardless of the weather.

The big red blob on the TV map is now upon us - covering the whole of Kyushu!
If there were not so many buildings, trees and electricity wires around, it would be fun to go outside and physically experience the awesome power of nature.
But i am in the office, and here i must stay until i brave the journey across the carpark to go home for lunch.

Monday, 5 September 2005

As the storm approached...

... Daniel and i were messing around with a camera in my appartment:


Yarr, there be a typhoon a-comin'!
and it be a big'un!

Forecast to hit/pass over here sometime in the early hours of tomorrow morning.

Wind is getting stronger,

Lessons / events are being cancelled,

Old people are starting to gather for shelter at the For You Kaikan where i work.

All very exciting really.

Saturday, 3 September 2005

Took my paraglider out to the riverbank for a bit of ground handling.

it's amazing how much attention this generates... on top of me being foreign and not exactly normal-looking anyway...

Some cars stopped to watch, some people called out to me, and after a while a guy driving past in an expensive-looking white car took a detour and drove down onto the riverbank beside me. He came up to me and asked in pseudo-wakariyasui semi-gestured Japanese if he could be my friend. Slightly wary, and not 100% sure how to deal with the situation, i said, "er... so what's your name?"
"Ah, yes;" he took out and handed me a busines card with very little info on it, "So, i really want to try paragliding. Where can I get one, how much for?"
I still had absolutely no idea who this guy was, and he kept hinting that if/as we were friends i could/should let him try my wing out...

He was also keen to find out where i live, and said we should meet up some time. For some reason he seemed surprised that i live in the town we were standing in. i didn't give him any more details.

I told him about the paragliding schools i knew of nearby, and he said "Oh, it's alright, i taught myself to drive, so flying one of those should be pretty easy to pick up, too."
When i stressed the necessity of getting proper training (in weather observation, and a certain way of thinking), otherwise it's really really dangerous, he said it was the danger that he found appealing...
He then asked what was in the pouch in the back. When i told him it was a reserve parachute, he said, "Oh, I've always wanted to try skydiving!" and went on and outlined his idea of flying up really high on a paraglider, cutting himself loose, and freefalling for a while before pulling out the parachute and gliding to safety...
Nice idea in theory, but i don't think it's a particularly good one to try in practice.

This is not the kind of guy i would ever dream of letting anywhere near my paraglider. Nor anyone else's. Not even if he paid me.

He eventually wandered off, to be replaced by a couple of junior school kids, whose presence was pleasantly refreshing in contrast. But by that time, the wind had died off.

Thursday, 1 September 2005

Linguistic Observation

Spending time talking to Americans has led me to discover some interesting gramatical developments in trans-Atlantic English colloquialisms.

There exist, in Scottish and in American English, widely used plural forms of "You". Originally "You" was the plural form of thee/thou, but 'you' became used for both singular and plural. As there are some occasions when there is a need for differentiation, the new forms have developed. So the colloquial plural forms of You are:
American: Y'all
Scottish: Yous (this is possibly used by some Welsh people too, and expat borderites like myself who are nostalgic for a culture they have but dabbled their toes in.)

Monday, 22 August 2005

Update / book review pt. 2 : (more a review of my own book-reading than the book itself)

Am I gullible, or just too freely accepting? I get stuck into a book and tend to believe every word it says. (I do this with a lot of books) and think highly of the book (and its arguments) until I read something else that refutes, disagrees with or criticizes the book, then I just agree with the criticisms instead. I thought I was an independent thinker, but maybe I’m more like a chameleon.

The intensity with which I have been reading D+D is no doubt a factor in its effect on my total acceptance of it. I have left little time for thought between sections, and apart from the odd meal here and there, only once or twice have I got up off the couch and interacted with the society described in the book. D+D contains a lot of truth and valid complaints (concrete, noise pollution, etc. which DO REALLY ANNOY ME!) but there is a lot about life in Japan that really isn’t that negative – I enjoy my work interacting with people and seeing the interaction between their preconceptions and my non-Japanese teaching methods, I really love being up in the mountains (although they seem to be filling with useless roads and dams) and in spite of what Kerr says about good onsens disappearing, I still really love those – even the seedy urban bath houses have their own charm.

The book itself is somewhat repetetetetitive (and I did notice that myself) but I feel like here I am now having read these forums and adopting their viewpoints (or changing mine to fit theirs). Am I just a mollusc? Latching onto any writing and thoroughly accepting its viewpoint without discernment? Well, I guess I’m not much of a critical thinker… but why think critically? I don’t want to become cynical. Also, thinking critically (or even thinking at all?) prevents me from getting caught up in a good read (which is one of the reasons I read in the first place).

Perhaps Kerr’s image of Japan as a creaking hulk heading for the rocks (I keep visualizing it as similar to the castle monster thingy in last year’s anime Howl’s Moving Castle by Miyazaki) is somewhat over extreme / alarmist but there is certainly a lot of truth here and food for thought, as well as scarily satisfying explanations of the causes behind a lot of the
nazo one sees in Japan.

I have now been in Japan for just over a year – the longest so far at a stretch. And I can tell you I’VE GOTTA GET OUT OF HERE BEFORE IT'S TOO LATE!!!
This is the reaction I have to spending the last 3 days reading Dogs And Demons by Alex Kerr. If you’ve read it, you’ll know what I’m getting at – the book portrays Japan as a creaking machine heading in the wrong direction and about to fall apart at any minute. It covers most aspects of life in Japan, from the concreted rivers and seashores to the cookie-cutterization of the populace through a scarily efficient miseducation system And the thing is, you can see it. The rivers are concreted. There are more under-used cultural centres, pachinko parlours and strange shaped monuments than could possibly be needed
A big factor in my current attitude is probably the intensity with which I’ve been reading this book. It is almost 400 pages (plus Footnotes) and I started reading it on Friday evening. Thanks to a rainy day on Saturday and a train journey on Sunday, I will have finished it by this (Monday) evening. As well as being scarily readable (with a few rough bits in the economics sections that I’m not too clued up on) it is very intense, packed full of facts, examples and whatnot to explain the whole crazy system – a good summary is here. Dogs And Demons is definitely worth a read if you are even vaguely interested in Japan, but be warned: it might put you off.

Monday, 15 August 2005

doing stuff

Just a note to say (in case anyone visits) that this blog is supposed to be about stuff i've been doing, but because i'm so busy doing all the things i'm doing, i haven't got around to writing about them. So, until i do, it seems that this blog is about procrastination.

Sunday, 14 August 2005

more from my diary

Sunday was a much better day - including over 2 hours of ground handling and bouncing around on the beach followed by an hour or
2 playing in the surf with bodyboards. The PGing took me back (mind and level gradually training back to the level i was last year) to awesome day bouncing around over the thermic rocks round the back of Fan G with Nick last July.
Wind was a bit too strong for a flight from the mountain, but I'm back in the zone and ready to fly again!
Sunday afternoon I had a good chat with Itonaga about life; he says he used to think that what you do was more important than money, but he says you need money, and all artists are poor. He’s an artist (like most people in Japan), in that he paints European Windows in Black and white. Also speculates on Stock Exchange. Lots of philosophizing etc. (and religion etc. in the car on the way home) with a backdrop of beautiful sunset over 福岡湾, and the slow お盆 traffic. We went to his mother’s house in 北九州 (for a big family gathering, including a mutual English/Japanese lesson with his elder brother (or someone's grandfather?) who was teaching me lots of old kanji that aren't used any more) then back to Yoshitomi (with his family, including his elder son who is at 東京外国語大学 near ICU studying French)(somehow getting lost in 行橋 on the way (they wouldn’t have got lost if I’d been navigating!))

Saturday, 13 August 2005

Paragliding Weekend (sort of...) (from my diary)

i had an awesome weekend discovering that i had forgotten how to paraglide - not good! until Saturday, it was just under 8 months since i last flew...
So on Saturday it was a good thing i was only doing short hops supervised by 糸長さん(and also that character with really strong hands whos v. keen to practice English and doesn't stop talking and I’d forgotten existed)... my launch technique and control (and just about everything) had totally gone to pot. And to cap it all off i had an accidental reserve deployment - (bizarre feeling) though luckily i was only at 2m altitude.
Many lessons learned and relearned. Rehabilitation. Frustrating but useful.
(Earlier we went up to see the takeoff – a very steep dodgy looking wooden slatted ramp!)

The place was 火山in 志摩町, near 前原, west of 福岡市 – an awesome 4km long beach with muchos surf etc see here. a very reccomended location for all sorts of adventures! Sat. evening: 焼肉 but Itonaga had bought me veggies, salad and dressing on the way. Nice – he looked after me so well all weekend! I slept in the top of Itonaga’s camper van. And then a bit in the morning on the beach. If you have never slept on a beach in the early morning, do it now!

Wednesday, 10 August 2005


I've just realized if you had a spa in a ghetto it would be a spaghetto . . .

so i have changed the name from
Sparky's Space
Sparky's SpaGhetto

a lot of

and if i don't get some useful stuff in here soon, it'll turn out to be a blog about a blog, which is not what i want.

Tuesday, 9 August 2005

Ok, so this is my blog.

at last it starts.
or i start it.
or it is started by me.
or whatever.

whether this log of webbage will continue further than these first few minuscule ramblings can only be determined by anyone who chooses to visit this space.

basically, i feel that i have recently been doing stuff that is interesting enough to warrant some interest taken in it by people who feel that they have been deprived of hearing about me.
so i set up a blog and this is it.

it may also be a good opportunity to learn a bit of html