The Shinkansen Dream ~The Story of Kiku and Shinji, Musical Review – Guest writer John

「走れ!夢の新幹線 ~キクとシンジの物語~」

(Full speed ahead! The Shinkansen Dream ~The Story of Kiku and Shinji~)

This community musical (hereafter Kiku to Shinji) was the talk of Saijo, our small city in Ehime Prefecture. A collaboration between local residents, the municipal government, and an educational theater group, Kiku to Shinji sold out both its shows, drawing well over 1000 people. In this sense, it was a complete success. More than that, even the toughest local critics were impressed by the quality of the production.


Kiku to Shinji is about Kiku and Shinji Sogo. Shinji (1884-1981) was the 4th Director of Japanese National Railways and a driving force behind the development of the shinkansen bullet train, completed in 1964. The tireless Shinji was supported by his wife Kiku, a music student he met while studying at Tokyo Imperial University. The play covers their life together in flashbacks narrated by the major characters from the corners of the stage, opening and closing with a catchy musical number called “Never give up on your dreams.”


Even locally, some don’t understand the connection between Shinji Sogo and Saijo. After all, the shinkansen doesn’t have service on Shikoku. Shinji was born in Nakahagi, a village in between the present-day cities of Niihama and Saijo. As a boy, he walked four hours to-and-from Saijo for school and later served as Saijo’s mayor for nine months immediately after the end of World War II. (His tenure was abruptly ended, the play explained vaguely, as “part of the occupation army’s strategy.”) This is the basis for Saijo’s claim to his legacy, though Niihamans will dismissively tell you that Nakahagi is part of their city. Building on this connection, Saijo is home to Shikoku’s railway museum (which includes the Shinji Sogo Memorial Museum).

The musical covered Kiku and Shinji’s story in a brisk 80 minutes. It featured a lot of fan service for the hometown crowd, including praise of local food and heartfelt lines about the kindness of the people, as well as an anachronistic reference to a PR slogan created just this year. There were plenty of roles for local kids, including three little ballerinas and a high school dance troupe.


All of these elements created a light atmosphere in spite of the play’s epic historical scope. The musical did spend a long and sober sequence on postwar education reforms, and a scene of teachers explaining why their lessons were wrong and encouraging students to think for themselves reflected current debates about textbooks and teaching history. The audience was gravely quiet during this passage, though the heavy atmosphere soon gave way to an amusing appearance by our own Rowan and a spirited musical number.


As community theater, Kiku to Shinji struck the right balance between drama and comedy. And most importantly, the music was memorable.

Three people gave brief comments after the performance: the playwright, the author of the manga that the musical was based on, and the mayor of Saijo. The mayor called the Kiku to Shinji “Saijo’s treasure” (西条の宝物) and I strongly agreed with him. The palpable effort and enthusiasm of the performers and organizers, and the support of the city’s residents who turned out in droves, created an intense concentration of positive energy that I believe will encourage stronger community spirit and lead to more activities like this.


John is a local JET and friend in Saijo City.




E-Thankfulness, Maharajah spice.

On my brother’s blog he used to do a series of posts on thankfulness. Just simple articles outlining some things he was thankful for recently. I am a very lucky person in a lot of ways, and I thought posts in that style might be a nice way to chronicle some of the loveliness that occurs in my Japan adventures that by themselves might not warrant full posts by themselves. However, I am going to break this in by doing precisely the opposite of that, and theming it entirely around one place.

I’m thankful the to the excellent curry place, Maharajah spice, that had its last night. It was one of the first places I ever ate out in Saijo, and it was just excellent, as early on I felt very uncomfortable around drinking culture, it was a wonderful way to get to know the local English teachers.

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Musical musings

The musical is finished! (well, was, like 2 months ago)

How was it?

Ummm, well, it was good! And tiring! … And umm… yeah. I am sure we have all done things for been in situations where someone asked us the simple question “How was it?” and yet been at a loss. There is almost too much to say and also not enough.

Doing a musical in Japan, in Japanese (mostly) was a very unique experience in a number of ways. And yet, in a number of others, it was remarkably similar to my time with the fantastic Burnie Musical Society’s production of Annie. Enough that I used my knowledge of that to fill in the blanks to generally not be in the way. Which was my general goal. I never expected to be a star or particularly good, I just wanted to avoid being a burden. A task which I can say I succeeded in mostly!


And when I did have questions, often I would hear someone say “I was wondering that too” or something to similar effect. So I managed to mostly succeed.


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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.


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.


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.


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.



Bakuman gets it’s own section?


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.


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…





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.


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.