Happy Birthday in Japan (again)

Turning twenty-five in Japan is not something that I ever imagined for myself. Partly because I never really had any interest in Japan until I suddenly decided to move here, but also partly because I never really believed I’d get to twenty-five.

Anyway, on Friday I did make it to twenty-five and I did celebrate in Japan, in true Hannah style; all silliness and fun.

There was French toast for breakfast (eaten in pajamas and high heels), perfect weather, a mid morning ice cream break, water pistols and Leandi in class, students singing happy birthday, bunking off early for coffee, Skyping with Mum and Dad, a homemade cake delivered to my door, dinner at a fancy restaurant at the harbour, Christmas crackers, more homemade cake, a mad outdoor party down by the water, lovely presents, spray painting a car, and dancing until the morning birds started to sing.  Everything I needed for a perfect birthday.

I always get a bit reflective on my birthday and this year all I could think was how lucky and blessed I am.

I have such beautiful, generous, amazing people in my life, here and around the world; people who teach me and look after me and make me happy.

I have so many wonderful opportunities to travel and learn and experience all the magic in the world.

I am healthy and safe, something that I take for granted all too often.

I love the way I live my life. It’s not always very conventional, and it’s not always easy, but I wouldn’t change it for anything.

I don’t know where I’m going, and I’m really not sure how I intend to get there, but I’m having an incredible time figuring it out.

And if the next twenty-five years are even half as mindblowing as the first twenty-five, I’ll be happy.

thanks to Bella Besong

Well, I never seem to do it like anybody else
Maybe someday, someday I’m gonna settle down
If you ever want to find me I can still be found
Taking the long way
Taking the long way around.

-Dixie Chicks, Long Way Around

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Cucumber

I arrived at school this morning to find this on my desk:

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Surprised and excited, I opened it up to find this:

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Yes, I received a cucumber through the Takamatsu City Board of Education internal mail.

Big thanks to Justin for making me laugh at the end of a very long week.

Hannah the Flasher

A good wardrobe malfunction is always hilarious—just think Janet Jackson at the Superbowl–but you know who doesn’t love wardrobe malfunctions?

The people whose wardrobes are doing the malfunctioning.

I was teaching ninth grade the other day, and I happened to be wearing a new dress, one I’d picked up at our spring cleaning clothes swap.

It’s a cute dress, and a couple of the girls had commented about how kawaii I was looking that morning, so I was feeling pretty good.

About twenty minutes into the lesson, though, I could tell something was amiss.

There was way more giggling from the boys than usual, and I caught a couple of smirks passing between them.

I hate when they smirk. It always means bad things for me.

Things came to a head when I leaned over one student’s desk to explain something to him and all the boys behind me started snickering.

I spent the rest of the lesson with my back to the wall and what with the smirking and whispering, and the awkward posture, it was probably the most uncomfortable 50 minutes of my life.

As soon as the lesson was done, I bolted for the bathroom to figure out what was going on.

Turns out the dress is see through.

Yes, that’s right. The boys were so amused because I had been walking around with my black g-string on display for the whole lesson.

It was bad. It was really bad.

I told my supervisor that I was having a ‘minor personal emergency’ and just had to duck home for half an hour.

I thought about changing the dress for an oversized black sack, but then the students would know that I knew that they knew.  It was quite a debate.

Anyway, I got back to school and made it through the day with no further wardrobe malfunctions, though my supervisor did sit down with me to warn me that the ninth grade boys had expressed a certain amount of interest in my undergarments.

The only thing that kept from crawling under some blankets and staying there forever was the reassuring thought that school boys have short memories and this would all have been forgotten by the next time I saw them.

However, it seems that I was being a little optimistic.

The next day Leandi was visiting my school while I visited hers. She was teaching my students “have you ever~” and she was good enough to send me this picture of one student’s worksheet.

So I’m getting under these blankets and I’m not coming out ever.

Go Gamecocks!

I have many skills in life; I write pretty well, I can do cartwheels, I can juggle and I make really good crepes.

Then there are the things which I thoroughly enjoy, but probably shouldn’t be allowed to do in public, like dancing, singing Mariah Carey, and winking. I think rugby falls into this category*.

A few months ago people started talking about the annual Eishinsha-Sanko Cup, a touch rugby tournament organised by Tokushima AJET.

Kagawa didn’t manage to get a team together last year, but this year, with some in-your-face enthusiasm and a bit of name-calling from John, we managed to rope in a few people dumb enough to commit to a weekend of pain and embarrassment.

Sorry, I mean a weekend of rugby.

In the lead up to the tournament, we practiced every week, and we got very good at standing in a circle tossing the ball to each other and talking about our weekends.

My personal big achievement was learning not to scream and fling the ball wildly over my shoulder every time it got passed to me.

We also got a lot of spin disk* practice in, which possibly didn’t help our rugby skills, but is always a lot of fun.

Anyway, the weekend of the tournament snuck up on us, and with a last minute drop-out, we were down to six people, just barely enough for a team. Luckily some Tokushimans defected to the Sanuki Gamecocks (a name chosen by John because it made him snigger) and we had enough for a couple of subs.

Saturday morning was hot and sunny, and we piled into Justin’s car and headed for the venue in the boonies of Tokushima, where we set up some tents and played some spin disk before the games kicked off a little after ten.

We were first up, and we played a very exciting match against Shiga.

It was exciting mostly because we learnt the rules, but also we didn’t get thrashed, which we were surprised happy about.

The rest of the day went in much the same way; us losing every game, but celebrating anyway because no one cried or broke anything. I even caught the ball a few times without screaming, which I was thoroughly chuffed with.

By the end of Saturday we all had heat stroke and aching muscles but we were feeling pretty pleased with our efforts for the day. And when all the matches were done for the day, we had a big BBQ party, which was the real reason I was there fun.

Sunday dawned hungover cloudy and cold, and by the time matches started again it was raining hard. I was reminded of going to watch boy’s Saturday morning rugby games; sitting in the rain, covered in wet grass, wondering about the point of this weird-shaped ball game.

We had two more matches on Sunday, just to firmly cement our position at the bottom of the table, and I confess that we pretty much jumped in the car as soon as we came off our last game.

Overall I would call the weekend a success. Not in the conventional way in which you actually win games, but in the sense that I had a lot of fun with friends from around Japan, met some cool new people, and didn’t scream once.

Go Gamecocks! Courtesy of Mary.

Go Gamecocks! Courtesy of Mary.

 

 

*Sorry, Dad.

*Sometimes called Frisbee.

You know you live in Japan when…

This popped up on my newsfeed today, and I laughed because it’s so damn true.

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Here are some other “you know you live in Japan when”s:

You know you live in Japan when your adult colleagues have cutesy character paraphernalia everywhere. Clothes, bags, pencil cases, dashboards, book covers… It’s like Disneyland in my office sometimes.

You know you live in Japan when strangers approach you multiple times per day with “what country?” or other variations on the question. I am so bored of this line of questioning that when a high school student approached us the other day, I led with “if you were a crayon, what colour would you be?” just to break the monotony.

You know you live in Japan when you have a choice of 47 different kinds of tofu at the store, but you have to buy your deodorant online.

You know you live in Japan when your toilet choices are; a) spaceship toilet that will wash you, dry you and sing you a song, or b) hole in the ground. Middle ground, people! Get some!

I love the weirdness, I’m really going to miss it when I’m gone.

 

Class trips

I loved school field trips when I was a kid.

A whole day to go somewhere more interesting than school and freak out the teachers by touching things we shouldn’t and standing too close to the edge? Best.

But it turns out that going on a school field trip as an ALT is even better.

Last year we went to a really cool art gallery in Naruto, but this year we got to go to an awesome science museum in Ehime, and to be totally honest I think I was more excited than the kids.

The day was just a series of excitements from start to finish.

We got to watch Shrek on the bus! Lucky I’ve seen it so many times that I could follow it in Japanese…

We went to a planetarium! It was amazing, with cool stars and that dizzy feeling when the flying animation is really good.

I got sweets! Field trip day is the one day of the year that the kids are allowed to have sweets at school, so after they ate lunch, they had oyatsu time and they all pulled out sweets and chocolates and when I stared at them really hard they shared with me.

My 8th graders were pretty chill about being attacked by a dinosaur.

My 8th graders were pretty chill about being attacked by a dinosaur.

We saw dinosaurs! There were cool dinosaur statues that started moving at random intervals. Someone screamed. It might have been me.

There were things that went whirr and lit up and moved! I couldn’t read most of the explanations, so I wasn’t really sure what most of them were, but I enjoyed turning cranks and pulling ropes and spinning things with my kids.

I wish my students were always this hilariously disproportioned!

I wish my students were always this hilariously disproportioned!

We got to watch Shrek! I guess they only packed one DVD for the trip. But my kids insisted on watching it in English with Japanese subtitles the second time, so I was pretty stoked.

I got to take a nap! Having a lot of fun with some nuts kids is exhausting, so I grabbed a few sneaky Zs on the bus home, safe in the knowledge that none of the kids had cameras or phones.

But the best thing about going on a field trip as an ALT is that I didn’t have to do that stupid worksheet that teachers always try to ruin a good field trip with.

Today’s marriage proposal

I ate lunch with my third grade elementary students today…

 

Third grader #1: “Hannah sensei, do you think Shinomiya sensei is a babe?”

Me: “Uhhh… sorry, I don’t understand…”

Third grader #2: “Hannah sensei, will you marry Shinomiya sensei?”

Me: “Oh, um… I’m really busy right now. I don’t really have time.”

Third grader #3: “But you don’t have to marry him right now! Next week is okay!”

Me: “Yeah… I’m pretty busy all this month actually.”

Third grader #4: “Okay, when you have time, will you marry him?”

Me: “Man, this ramen is delicious!”

Third grader #1: “Oh, do you have someone you like in New Zealand?”

Me: “No, no I don’t.”

Third grader #2: “So are you married?”

Me: “No, definitely not.”

Third grader #2: “So when you have time, marry Shinomiya sensei, okay?”

 

 

Muffy

It’s taken me a long time to get around to this, but I think it’s finally time that I wrote about Muffy.

Back in January, in the depths of an awful Japanese winter, I was feeling pretty grotty.

They aren’t big on heating where I live in Japan, so I was spending most of my waking hours with blue hands, huddled in whichever uncomfortable position I felt would retain the most heat.

I was just cold constantly and it wasn’t very nice.

In addition to that (or rather, because of that) I wasn’t going out as much as I probably should have, or doing very much exercise or seeing very much sunlight.

Pretty much the only reason I would leave my house, aside from going to work, was to cycle to my friend’s house where we would huddle together and drink red wine.

With all of this combined, in the post-Christmas period, when the excitement of the holidays had been replaced with the soul-wrenching decision of whether or not to leave Japan, I was feeling pretty SAD.

This came to a head one day in late January when Sarah, Leandi, Saad and I were driving through the snow on the way back from Tokushima and for no apparent reason I burst into tears.

I just sat in the back seat of the car and cried without being able to explain why, which made me feel crazy as well as sad.

We decided that a trip to the pet shop would be good for all of us–Leandi and Sarah had been the day before and seen a giant bunny that they wanted to see again–so we headed to Amigos for a bit of animal therapy.

When we arrived, it was almost dark and the snow was falling really heavily, so it was wonderful to walk into the pet store, which seemed so bright and lively and happy compared to the rest of the world.

Puppies! Kittens! Hamsters! Chinchillas! A giant bunny! Pet shops are a wonderful place to go when you’re feeling sad!

Actually, maybe they’re a terrible place to go when you’re feeling sad. Rational thinking is hard when your eyes are leaking and you want to climb into a giant pile of pillows and never come out.

The giant bunny (which we named Myboobs) was enormous, and we briefly debated the merits of getting a bunny bigger than my bathtub, but thankfully we weren’t crazy/sad enough to think that was a good idea.

But in the enclosure next to the giant bunny were a bunch of little baby bunnies.

Adorable little baby bunnies.

After some calm discussion (squealing and more tears) the four of us made a rational and well-thought out decision (kind of) to get a joint bunny.

We pointed to the silliest, fluffiest, most adorable bunny in the enclosure and asked to have a cuddle.

Why you never take emotional girls to a pet shop.

Why you never take emotional girls to a pet shop.

It was at that point that we lost any shred of restraint we might have had left.

We paid the (enormous) sum of money for rabbit, cage, food, water bottle and treats, and went back out into the snow the proud owners of a tiny, ridiculous bunny.

Since that time, she has been cuddled, loved, dressed up, fed wine, and moved house three times.

This is a bunny drinking wine.  We are bad parents.

This is a bunny drinking wine.
We are bad parents.

She has also peed on inconvenient surfaces, chewed on everything she shouldn’t have, and learnt how to jump alarmingly high.

And since yesterday she lives at my house.

She’s scared of my floors, which may be a problem, and she’s already found and peed on the only non-wipable surface in my apartment, but she’s pretty adorable.

And now that I have summer AND Muffy, I’m going to be SO happy!

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A little insight into the way I travel

After my Shimanami Kaido Cycleventure, I ducked back to Takamatsu for 24 hours and one day of work before jumping another bus out for the next mad adventure.

As a result, I’m writing this sitting in Kansai Airport with my friend Sam at eleven o’clock on a Tuesday night.

We’re tucked in our sleeping bags, and shortly, we’ll put on our eye masks and go to sleep.

We’re a little early for our flight, you see.

And when I say a little early, I mean eight hours.

We have a seven am flight, which means checking in at 6:30. There’s no way of getting into Osaka from our island that early in the morning, and if we were staying in the city we’d have to get up at 4:30 anyway.

Plus staying in the city costs money.

So here we are, in our sleeping bags in the airport.

We’re attracting quite a lot of stares, and this time I can’t blame it on being gaijin.

It might be the sleeping bags. It might be Sam’s zebra print trousers. It might be my backpack.

Yes, that is a saucepan hanging off the side. And my clothes strapped to the front. And there was no room for my jandals inside the bag, so I had to tie them to the zip tab.

Stop judging me.

Anyway, the point of this stupidly early flight is to get us to Kagoshima, the southernmost tip of Kyushu. We could have taken a flight at a normal time, but more sleep=more money.

From Kagoshima we will take a boat to Yakushima, a small island famous for old trees, deer and monkeys.

On Yakushima, we will spend three whole days walking up and down hills, sleeping in a tent, and eating food straight out of a saucepan.

Yes, we just realised we forgot bowls.

I am SO excited to go bush; no phones, computers, alarms, work, electricity or running water, just me, Sam, some old trees, and the local wildlife. Amazing.

If we’re lucky we’ll see some turtles, make it to the beach for a swim, and wrap it all up with an onsen. Not getting eaten by deer would be good too.

Obviously, my idea of the perfect holiday doesn’t resonate with everybody.

I was gushing to my supervisor the other day about how great it was going to be; hiking, sleeping in tents, being at one with nature etc. etc., and she just shook her head in bewilderment.

A few minutes later she came rushing back, and in a horrified stage whisper, she asked, “But Hannah sensei!! Where… where will you shower??”

My response (also in a stage whisper) was, “Don’t tell anyone, but…we probably won’t!”

Pretty sure I cemented my reputation as the weird foreigner.

If we surviveAfter Yakushima we’ll have one more night in Kagoshima, staying with a couchsurfer called Matt, before taking another early morning flight back to Osaka, then buses back to our respective cities and real life.

If you don’t hear from me for four days, it’s because I’m having an amazing time. Any longer than that probably means I’ve been eaten by deer.

Let’s Yakushima!

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