Christmas Day at Matsuyama Zoo

Since I was going to be away from home for Christmas, without even a host family, I thought it would be best to do something special for Christmas.

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Go to the Tobe Zoo for a Christmas walkabout and lunch.

I could do a big write up, but it’s a zoo. Animals. Here are some animals.

It was really nice… And quite cheap too, even the restaurant food was not unreasonably priced. There is also a great sense the zoo encourages community, with Kids drawings of the animals displayed proudly around the zoo. If I was a parent in Matsuyama I would certainly consider doing this maybe once every few months easily.

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Christmas Eve in Japan

MERRY CHRISTMAS…

Although at this point it is boxing day. Anyway, this was the first Christmas since 2006 I have spent away from my family. Because of that, and the fact I had taken the Christmas period off, I wanted to do a few things I wouldn’t normally be able to do on Christmas, and had wanted to do for a little while. So it was off to Matsuyama, the major metropolis of the Love Princess. (although, Saijo is where all the cool kids are at).

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The first thing to do was to go to Melon Books and Lashinbang, both very close to each other, and buy some general goods. In my only previous visit I didn’t fully explore the shops as there was a large amount of naked women in the shops. This time however, amid the naked ladies and various fan games to come from Touhou, I found a lot of rather nice looking Boys Love doujin (fan work). So i picked up the Nitro Plus, FREE and Hetalia ones I found all nice and cheaply.

In my previous trip, I had managed to miss ANIMATE, a big anime and manga goods chain store across Japan, and scored some nice trinkets, my favourite being the Card Captor Sakura phone decoration. However, the Persona 3 pencil case is pretty cool. Now I might actually start using a pencil case rather than the single pen approach.

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After all that and checking into my hostel (which, supposedly fully booked, netted me a room with 6 beds and 1 person) which is very near the Dogo Onsen (Hotspring/bathhouse). Seem familiar, there is good reason for that. The Dogo onsen was supposedly a major inspiration for the bathhouse in Spirited Away. It is also one of Japan’s oldest Onsen, and one which past emperors have visited. This being my Christmas eve, I was extravagant and took the most expensive option available, the bath of the spirits with Private room at a whopping 1500 or so yen. Honestly, while the service was amazing, the actual onsen experience was much like my experience in other places, if not a little worse. It was a lovely experience overall, but it’s really just a little more old school than a modern onsen, and that changes very little. Although, perhaps I did miss something?

To end that day off I went to a few gay bars I had read about online. I went too early as is typical of me, but that combined with the fact Christmas eve isn’t a great bar night meant that I mostly just chatted with the bar tenders. Which was really nice. I did learn a few interesting bits and pieces about gay culture here though. How widespread these are I can’t really tell you, but they sounded likely to extend beyond Matsuyama.

Firstly, the thing that surprised me was the concern when I entered each bar. They were like ‘… so… You know what kind of bar this is…’ The first time I was very confused, because I thought it would be obvious I knew since it was out of the way, so I said, ‘no, not really, I just read about it online and it sounded good.’ Thinking he might have been refering to like a special drink system or maybe more like the niche of gay people they cater too. After a few more awkward exchanges, I realised he was unsure if I knew it was a gay bar. After that it was all much more at ease and generally really pleasant conversation ensued. A few interesting things popped up, and I have come to understand that I really need to select a type I am into, because the fact I don’t have a set type is immensely confounding it seems.

At the second bar though, it’s appeal was more for bears, which I am not the most into, but they are usually really nice to talk with in my experience in the west, can’t say so much in Japan. Anyway, I was curious about dating app use here. A lot of the popular western apps, Grindr in particular, have little to no people on them in Japan outside of westerners and people in larger cities. I was interested to know why and the answer I go was kind of worrisome. Apparently Grindr had gotten quite popular in Japan too. Too popular in fact. To the point that people outside the gay community started to know about it, and were using it to out people. Being out in Japan is not as common as it would be in Australia. I have gathered that westerners can get away with being out because we are always outsiders and so it doesn’t add too much on top of what we already have.  (Gaijin, 外人, means forienger but the kanji more sort of implicate outsider. Gaikokujin 外国人, more directly says someone from another country. And there is a difference I have gathered over the last year or so in reading, but maybe for another time). For a Japanese person, it seemed much more troublesome, at least based on talked with the few people here I have about being out.

So for the Japanese gay community, Grindr actually ultimately caused some serious problems, and so they migrated over to other apps. Not that I think my blog will be a major hit with the kinds of the people who’d want to use these apps maliciously, but, I certainly don’t want to help cause more issues in that regard. One of the more popular ones is has quite an amusing and horrifying metagame element though…

Anyway, with those gay bars, I ended my evening finished watching the Meryl Streep film It’s Complicated and then slept, excited for Christmas day!

The trees aren’t eucalyptus anymore.

So I am off to Matsuyama for a short Christmas trip, enjoying a time at the Dogo Onsen and spending Christmas itself at the zoo. As I am taking the bus though it’s kind of amazing how much I keep thinking of The drives my parents took me around Tasmania. Tall thin trees while driving around the curvy roads of mountains and kills, the road stops with a parking lot and an undercover table. The concrete angled slabs to the side sometimes.

Sure the specifics are quite different, but the general vibe of the whole drive has more in common with going to some national park back home than it has any right to be.

Of course, the trees are eucalyptus here. The roof tiles on the houses are different. The great potato fields of Tasmania are replaced with neat often tiered rice fields of Japan. I don’t drive past hours of sheep or cows, punctuated by the exciting horse or two. The signs are blue, not green, and have kanji on them too.

But those are the details. When I get asked how my life if over here, I often feel like I’m not saying enough, I’m not having all these adventures. What surprised you most is a tough question to answer when honestly, so much of Japan feels much the same to me as back home that it doesn’t really matter.

Of course, as I write this, I am leading up to one of the bigger differences I think will get to me as the years progress while I am here. Christmas is a normal day here. It’s closer to Valentine’s Day than Christmas back home in some ways, it’s not a day I can spend with my family, and infact this year, I am not going to spend it with any family. Last Christmas I was in Japan for was with my host family at least. But now, it’s much smaller. I am sure it will be fine but it will be quite different, certainly far less eucalyptus trees than I’d normally have.

General Life update 2 – End of first JET Calendar thoughts

Ok, maybe it is a little early. But given the frequency of updating on the blog it is probably going to be the last major post anyway. Like a lot of blogs, I haven’t updated this as much as I would have liked, but these things happen. I think a lot of people get caught in a trap of not wanting to write bad or dull content, and so put off creating, and then rush to make something eventually, getting the worst of both worlds.

So last night I had a bonenkai (end of year party) with my base school, and have one more day of teaching for the year, which is what is making me think about how far I’ve come. So I arrived on July the 28th and it’s December 23 as I write this. So 148 days, or 4 months and 25 days. That is a long time when you say it as days, months doesn’t make it sound as impressive. So, like the general life update previously, I’ll divide this up a little

Local stuff!

I talked about Saijo Matsuri earlier so go back and read up on it. But it was still a pretty outstanding event I am already looking forward to again next year. Aside from that I haven’t really been too involved in local events which is a little unfortunate really. But I did get to help out with a Halloween party for kids. It was a lot of fun, I went as the pope, and won a lightsaber duel vs a Sith Lord, saw a legion of adorable young Elsa’s and a variety of adorable Yokai.

A Yokai from the impossible to avoid Yokai Watch

 

 

To some extent, I was a little worried that perhaps I am not involved enough, which is true… However, this being still the first few months and me not being the most out there person, I am willing to let this slide for now. But hopefully come the spring I will find myself a little more involved. Even if it is just with the arcade scene in Niihama.

However, local stuff isn’t just going to big things! It is the little things as well. I feel a lot better about the little than I do the bigger events. The local fruit shop in the shopping arcade now know I love their bananas, and that I usually buy 4 at a time. So when they see me they ask me if I want 4 bananas, not the Japanese equivalent of ‘can I help you.’ I have discovered the local pharmacist(s) are actually usually cheaper for confectionery of various kinds than the supermarkets, which is ironically very poor for my health. But at the main one I shop at, me and shop keeper occasionally talk about confectionery.

I have ran into the mothers for many of the students at the primary schools and kindergarten I work with, which pleasingly tell me their kids were very excited by me. (Also they are great for double checking I am buying what I think I am buying) My Japanese doesn’t let me get too far in these conversations, but it’s nice to hear. I haven’t done much travelling, but I have done a lot of non exciting walks around the town, so I feel I have a pretty good idea of where a lot of things in Saijo are and could get between most points without a map. Which, given my dependency on google maps when I first got here is pretty pleasing. I have have a lot to explore, and go to, but I am getting a pretty solid idea of where things are.

Overall on the getting used to and involved with Saijo, I am doing much better on the getting used to, less so with involved.

Language

There are some tough things about language learning in the country. For starters your basis of comparison changes suddenly when you are dealing with native speakers every day, and genuinely operating in the country. What was great in University is barely enough to get through a day at work. The biggest thing though is just trying. While I really struggled when I first got here (thanks to a lack of consistent study through and after honours in the language) I really have improved quite a bit. I can’t quite say everything I want to say, but I can say everything I pretty much need to say, and usually with a few explanations, teachers and staff can explain things to me. I can’t imagine how a JET would cope with anything less than my language skill. (well, I can, it would be a lot like my Toyama exchange)

It is hard incorporating new grammar often though. Recently I learned ~aれば~aほど~b   which makes a phrase meaning the more you do A, B. For example, the more you practice, the better you get. I have learned a lot of basic grammar points that get me through a lot of conversations I need to have… It is important to learn these expressions still, but it isn’t easy.

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Social Life

Yeah, I knew this wasn’t going to be a strong point for me on JET before coming here. I spent most of my first year at University with very few friends, many of whom were people who also moved to the same city to study from my old school(s). As much, most of my socialization is really coming from other JETs. Which is fantastic! But I need to make more effort to really develop my friendships with local people and converse more. I have the language to get through work, but not really the language for friendship.It doesn’t help that foreign language conversing is tiring, and so can meeting new people, so often I end up gravitating to other JETs despite ultimately wanting to develop those Japanese friendships more. This is really a key point I want to improve next year for sure.

However, we have had some great potlucks, a wonderful thanksgiving plenty of wonderful Karaoke nights, and sadly some farewell events. All of whom are sorely missed.

Work

Ultimately… I am actually enjoying work. I have had a fairly long run of consistently good classes, teachers feel confident enough in me to manage more and more aspects of the class, and have been really helpful in weaning me in from the earliest classes. Which I appreciate. Two weeks ago I was given the honour of explaining a grammar point… Which I suspect was aided by the fact the teacher in question was losing her voice and trying to delegate as much of the vocal load onto me as possible without making me speak Japanese. To start with each class was kind of filled with dread, because after the self intro classes, I was quite unsure of what I was going to do really. But, by this point I have gotten into a bit of a groove with each class, and have a vague idea of which things each class needs over others. Sadly, I already had to deal with the fact some classes are not as well behaved and certainly you can try and make the lesson better for those students, but that only goes far. Of course I’ll keep trying to improve with those classes, but I feel I fall into a niche that for many students just isn’t appealing. However, for other classes, I feel that what might make me unappealing to some students, makes them want to talk with me. I don’t like to share specific stories, but I can tell you I have one student who is in love with all sorts of obscure horror games and wants to talk to me about them.

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Bakuman

Bakuman gets it’s own section?

Yes.

My god this is not only a good anime, but this appears to have cemented about 4 positive friendships between me and 2 staff members and two students. All of which took the same action when I said I like Bakuman, they shook my hand. I am slightly concerned this is secretly a cult, but currently I am reaping the benefits. Mind you, as far as manga about manga go, its anime adaption at least is pretty excellent. If you want to befriend Japanese Manga/Anime fans, this seems to be THE media to consume. I can recommend the anime, haven’t read the manga. But yeah, it’s my number 1 recommendation if you want to keep to your cool niche, and have something people actually know.

Travel

Yeah… about that….

I am not much of a traveler despite going to Japan 4 times in total. I am really all about just being peaceful, relaxed and quiet socialization. Which travel doesn’t lend itself well too. I think I do need to make more of an effort to do some travel though, having only been outside of Ehime once since arriving, to Osaka, which was pretty cool. (although going to Hiroshima soon). Still need to plot out my Yakitate Japan tour though…

 

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Gaming

Given the amount of money spent on games since arriving I have done remarkably little to be honest. And when I do I am playing various braindead games as opposed to all the classics I still have yet to play! And despite writing up about study and gaming, I have been slack in even using games to study with. However, I have recently started delving more into the depths of the braindead Hyrule Warriors. The Warriors games straddling this amazing line of being really complex and completely braindead.

I did however manage to finish off this year’s major gaming project, Umineko. Although, as a Kinetic novel, it is not so much an game as a novel. I have managed to get through a few other bits and pieces, but yeah, this has not been a good few months for games of any type. Although import games are getting the worst of it as it is tiring playing an import game, well, only if you are bothering to get the most out of the text.

I will say though that this year’s Bayonetta 2 and Persona Q are two of the biggest stand out games of the year, and if you have a vague interest in either both easily justify the purchase of their respective consoles. I have dabbled in a huge amount of fantastic stuff since coming to Japan; Danganronpa, Persona 4 Ultimax, Diablo 3, Suikoden, Rogue Legacy, Project Diva f2nd, and even some Super Robot Wars. Alongside a lot more, because I have gaming ADD which I really need to resolve a little at some point.

Overall

As the year draws to a close, I am certainly overall pretty happy with my life here in Japan, know what I want to change, and have a little bit of an idea how to do it. JET has been the plan for such a long time, 8 years, that I am glad to actually be enjoying it. A big concern when it drew closer was that I was woefully the wrong kind of person for the job. But as time goes by, I am increasingly confident I am in the right place.