Episode eighteen: sakura sakura
Apr 14, 2006
|Date: March 17th - April 14th
Location: Takeo, Japan ... still
Hmm where to begin? Maybe I should start by setting the scene of me as I write this. Its 1:40pm... that's 13:40 for Alister... I'm in the LL (language laboratory) room alone. I'm on my laptop but have my ipod pumping in my ears in an attempt to conserve battery for the laptop (didn't bring the plug) but still have music as I type. Plus I get the bonus of killing my eardrums while not letting the music float out to the hallway, which would give my position away to the enemy. My soundtrack is Nirvana MTV Unplugged in New York. This week schools across the country started back for a new year. Today though I have... yes you guessed it, no classes. The cherry blossom (sakura) has been and gone, more on that later, but in its place it has left some spring weather and for the first time in about five months I'm sitting here at school with a short sleeve shirt on and it's not cold!! Stoked.
The past month since my last entry has been a rather mixed affair. It has ranged from drinking ever second night to the more recent, staying in and only venturing outside the house to have a run. To get you up to speed let me take you back to March 18th, the day after my last entry, which just so happened to be 'The Tans' birthday.
In order to celebrate his birthday in a fitting way, and with the added bonus of also celebrating Maurice's birthday that had fallen midweek prior, we set off as a group of eight bound for Tosu. The weather was miserable and cold but sitting there in ponchos watching SaganTosu play a J-league Div 2 football match, and play poorly I should add, I don't think we could have ever felt more like we were in England. The moment was quickly broken though by some Japanese people who sat down to eat their rice and fish instead of a hot dog, pastie or chips like you would find in England. Our team performed woefully but hey, it's to be expected from them. Basically they suck but that's why we love them.
Our next stop after Tosu and the football was Fukuoka city for a night of fun. We wasted no time in getting to Hawks Town where the ever popular, amongst us westerners at least, Hard rock café is located. Knowing we had an all-nighter ahead of us as we had to wait till the morning train to get home we figured we better pace ourselves and aim for a late dinner. How do you kill a couple of hours? Bowling of course. The alley was a load of fun with a randomly crazy five-minute period where everything went mental. Guys were yelling into mic's and the lights were doing their best to coax an epileptic fit out of someone. Next thing Maurice throws down a spare and a guy bounds over to bring him a prize. "Oh its like that is it?!" me thinks. I step up. Strike. Who's your daddy!
After a decent wait at the hard rock bar, was to be expected turning up with 12 of us on a Saturday night, we found our way to some tables. The food was, as usual, totally awesome and probably massively bad for us. The drinks, pricey but great, and the whole atmosphere the perfect setting for a loud birthday dinner. As dinner was winding down the music started up ... The Beatles "Birthday" ..." da din da din da da din da daah daah daah ... they say its your birthday..." everyone started clapping and over came two ice cream Sundays with sparklers attached for the birthday boys. Joined to the Sundays was also a balloon each. Helium is a rare find in Japan and we wasted no time in getting Maurice to sing us a nice song ... "I said a hip hop, a hippy to the hip..." So funny. We even got the waitresses in on the act much to their shock, as we were the first people to ever do this! Can you believe that?
All feeling like bursting we decided we better make our way to Tenjin for some fun. We were led to one of the only bars known to the group, Sam & Dave's. Next thing you know we have one of those awkward moments when in a large group and there is a big divide about where you should go. The bar was hip-hop to the days. However, most of the group were down with that, some of us though would rather eat mud. There also happened to be a rather pricey cover charge to get in. In the end two stayed out and the rest of us went in since it was Tan and Maurice's night out and was there call. Oh My God!! I am NEVER going back there so long as I live. It was the most hip-hop, video clip wannabe bar ever! Seriously so skanky it's not funny. One girl Karen and I saw was standing by the lockers with a tiny top on to complement her short, short denim shorts. Not content at showing 90% of her flesh she decided to make it super easy for guys later on that night by having the buttons to her shorts open and parted!! Insane. Needless to say the bar was rather lacking in a nice "wholesome" feel to it. Was instead replaced with a rather strange, Japanese wannabe gangster feel to it. Not my cup of tea at all. But glad to report Tan and Maurice had a blast even after we all packed it in.
After doing our time, about 40 minutes, we split and headed to a coffee shop to kill some more time.... Oh no we were thinking. You could just see how this was turning into one of those endless nights that takes an hour for five minutes to pass. The night was saved though when we found a karaoke room we could crash in until 6am for only $15 each. Bargain! Before heading in we hit up a convenience store and grabbed some chu-hi so smuggle in. The next four hours really flew by with many, many poor renditions of our favourite songs. The highlight for me had to be Karen and Lisa with Radiohead's High and Dry. It was so bad and thankfully all on video.
Monday at school in Arita was very relaxed as classes were cancelled in order to get the students walking round the town sight seeing. It's a way to show them the town they go to school in since many of them are from different regions but travel there each morning on the train. I quickly realised how lucky I am teaching there as the town is very pretty and has many highlights.
My favourite three things were:
1. A small shrine next to a monument in honour of a Korean man who was the first person in Japan to make porcelain with the rocks he found in Arita over 390 years ago.
2. The quarry they started after he found the rocks (reminds me just a little of the crevasse scene in Garden State).
3. An outlet shopping area for porcelain with so many plates for sale it's scary. One shop had a vase for sale for $260,000 US!
When I got back to Takeo that afternoon Karen and I wasted no time in heading out into the sun on a bike ride to check out a plum orchard in bloom. Was really pretty but unfortunately a little past its peak with a lot of petals on the ground. However, while there we found a trail that led up a big hill overlooking the whole of Takeo. We went for it and half an hour later we were standing atop some rocks looking over our massive city, which contains 12,000 people in the centre!! 12,000 = city?!... So wrong.
The next week was a rather drunken affair with drinking every second day. First came Tuesday night which Eric red carded into a 'pimp's and hoe's' night. Poker, drinking and of course fancy dress as either a pimp, if your male, or hoe, if your female. What subsequently followed was a rather messy night. I have to make a special mention of Rumi who was in fine drinking form.
After a much-needed day of rest we had a big group dinner with Lisa's parents who were visiting from Scotland. After a very nice meal we headed back to the apartments to show our two guests how we roll in Takeo. What do we do with new visitors to the group? Play some mafia, and drinking zoo that's what. This was then repeated two days later when my friend, Byron, came down to stay from Hiroshima. He is a fellow Kiwi JET who came over at the same time as me and who I hung out with in Tokyo upon arrival.
We had a great three days hanging out with him and showing him some of the delights of our area. Lucky the weather turned it on for him so we were walking round in shorts and jandals all weekend pretending it was normal. We mixed it up by playing some Frisbee, visiting our local space planetarium centre (which rocks by the way), and of course drinking. One gem we finally paid a visit to was the Kashima Shrine, which is located just a half hour drive from Takeo. The shrine was awesome. It was so much bigger and more impressive than I had imagined. Plus the cherry blossom was just starting to come which only added to the scene. Due to the fact Rumi took us there on a Monday afternoon there were also very few people around so we got to enjoy its beauty in peace. I will definitely be going back there again.
That night Karen red carded a Quiz night. She was, of course, question master and the rest of us were split into two teams. It humbles me to say that my team got smashed, though if I'm being honest I really am not that surprised. I suck at quizzes. Things some how stayed friendly and there were no shoes thrown over the building at the conclusion. The night then progressed, as always, into more active drinking from everyone and before you know it I'm cutting Byron and Maurice's hair at one in the morning. Sure you may be thinking that drinking is definitely not conducive to a quality cut... but, that is where you would be wrong. Both cuts were primo. I rate my skills. I had a reality check at 2:22am when Tan, Maurice and Byron get back from a late night snack mission on the bikes and everyone was sitting round eating Onigiri (Rice with a filling wrapped in dried seaweed. Very similar to a large fully wrapped sushi roll). I mean you really know you're in Japan when late night snack stops end up being massive sushi rolls and not a pie or chips!!
The next week of school was super quiet with no classes as the academic year had just finished. I tried using my time wisely by getting the paper work done for the ownership of my car. Waste of bloody time! I made a couple of trips to Saga city, each time finding I shouldn't have. First time I went all that way, walked a half hour to the office only to find the forms I had to collect could have very easily been faxed through to me as they were nothing more than a piece of paper with something photocopied onto it. The next day I went in with all the forms I thought I needed to hand in only to find I still needed a certificate from the current car owner. Draining does not describe how I felt. Bottom line was, the car would not be insured by the weekend, which meant no driving for me. Had really wanted to do a road trip with Karen.
The nights of this week, and weekend were spent in the company of Karen and only Karen. Due to the fact her flight home was getting ever closer we shut up shop from hanging out with the group and instead opted for as much QT as we could get. We took many, too many some might say, photos at a newly found photo sticker machine. On one-week day after discovering I wasn't needed at school I got home by 9am and we headed off to Arita for a picnic and to admire the cherry blossom trees that were in full swing now. A picnic under the cherry blossom is a traditional thing here called "hanami". It was really relaxing and the weather was splendid. Just the perfect temperature. While we were at the Shrine we found a group of elderly people all sitting there in wheelchairs just looking out over a small pond admiring the beauty and recharging their mental batteries. The smiles on their faces were so genuine. The beauty that radiates from the trees is truly something contagious. Japan really goes nuts over cherry blossom, but once you're here and you see it in person it's easy to understand why. The trees are so breathtaking. We really went mental with our cameras! I tell you all my Christmas's came at once.
On Wednesday the 5th Karen and I celebrated our one-year anniversary. We went for a lovely dinner to a restaurant called Source. The anniversary was bittersweet though in the knowledge that in two days time Karen would be leaving for New Zealand and we would be separated from each other again. Not the ideal thing to be thinking about on such a special day. However, despite that we managed to enjoy ourselves and had a magical day. It's funny though as the day didn't actually feel that different from a regular day to me. I know the reason is because each day I spend with Karen she manages to make me feel so special and makes the day so wonderful. It feels like I get to have an anniversary every day.
Unfortunately I know of no way to slow down time, thus, it was inevitable that Friday the 7th would arrive and it did. My supervisor at school was very nice in allowing me to skip off early in the morning for the day in order to go to Fukuoka airport with Karen. Saying goodbye for a second time was far harder than the first. Even though everyone says "its only for two months, she'll be back soon" its far, far too long. My heart aches already. The apartment is so strange now when I get home from school. Especially since most of Karen's things are still set out, it's like a scary episode of lost without a trace where Karen has popped out to the shops and not returned. June just can't come soon enough for me.
On the Sunday following Karen's departure I found myself in a small shrine as chief photographer, snapping away, while everyone had their head bowed as a priest mumbled on in Japanese. We were all there for Rumi's father who is running for re-election on the town council. For the first time since being here a question that I have been wondering for many months was finally answered. I wanted to know when Japanese people wear the Karate Kid style headbands. I have never seen them properly wearing them and started to think they were a western stereotype we had placed on Japanese people that held not truth. But, I am glad to inform you they do get worn! Upon arrival at Rumi's house we were issued with a headband and a warm can of green tea (mmm how I love air temperature green tea...not). We were to wear the headbands as a show of our support for Yukibo (Rumi's dad). The headbands had some kanji on them that simply equates to "do it, win!" Everyone was wearing them from old to young and it was very cool to finally witness.
Now this week is drawing to a close. The cherry blossom survived about 10 days, which is apparently longer than usual, but it has been replaced now with fresh green leaves. Sure it's still beautiful, but just not on the same level as the blossom flowers. With cherry blossom done for a year it's definitely safe to say we have now hit spring. There are more birds in the air, the nights are much longer and the sun is more intense. However, it's not all fun and games. The rainy season is supposed to start soon, some say it already has. Rainy season here lasts until the end of... wait for it... JUNE! How overkill is that. I mean sure, have a rainy season, its fashionable to do so, Thailand does, but don't drag it out for two months!! Lets get in there, have some torrential downpours and thunderstorms and let's get out for some quality sunshine! After all you can't play tennis in the rain, it's just not right.
Now I want to finish this update with an advert. The advert is for myself! (in a completely non internet advertisement looking for partner type of way) I have recently started a Blog. Actually I started it last night so it's VERY recent. I will endeavour to keep it updated daily, or bi-daily (is that a word?... hmm spell checker thinks so). It will just be a forum for me to talk about random stuff and basically bore you more than I do with these overly long updates. But they key thing is it will be short and you get to add yet one more thing to your ever growing Favourites list. You could even start an 'Angus' folder and have both my travel journal and my blog listed!! Wow how cool would that be?!! "Thanks Angus."