Monday, October 12, 2009

Put your hands up, this is a 'tache up

Or: "Bowl lotta history"

I have yet another day off! It's Health and Sports Day. In another example of community spirit that I - coming from Britain's loneliest city - am quite unaccustomed to, Nanyo was holding an athletics day for all its citizens. I was only vaguely aware of this event until I was awoken by a phonecall from my quasi-supervisor at 8:26 this morning, saying he would pick me up in ten minutes. I politely informed him that there was no chance of that happening. So I didn't make it to the opening ceremony at 9am, but I made my own way there a bit later. Though I was wearing my running gear, I showed up too late for registration, so I couldn't take part in the race. I wasn't too upset about this. So I swanned around, greeting kids with "Hello!"s and high-fives, and chatting to any English teachers I spotted. I was then introduced to Olympic silver-medalist Yuko Arimori, for which I felt very unworthy. My supervisor insisted I get my photo taken with her.

Now I'm back at home, catching up with household chores (I'm airing my futon outside for the first time) and listening to Adam and Joe on iPlayer. It's nice to have some quiet time, as my weekend was spent alternately socialising and being hungover. Let me fill you in on that.

Friday night was a trip to Yonezawa to go bowling with people from city hall. I had imagined this would just be a laid-back evening with three or four guys, but how wrong I was. This was a well-organised event with about 20 participants. We went to a classy gyudon (beef and rice bowl) restaurant first. I had previously thought gyudon was just a fairly cheap-and-dirty fast food, so maybe this was a bit like a Japanese Harry Ramsdens. Then came the bowling. I was pleased to note that even in Japan bowling alleys have the same weird 80s neon artwork going on. The only real difference between this place and Rollerbowl was that it was quite acceptable here to bring in a crate of beer and drink it as you played.

Pre-game, there was some speculation that a big, broad-shouldered gaijin like myself must be a great bowler. I did not live up to expectations. Perhaps due to this pressure, my first two balls went into the gutter. I did get my eye in eventually and picked up a couple of strikes, but my performance was inconsistent at best, and I scored 95 and 81 in the two games. It was like the Special Olympics. My ineptitude was all the more conspicuous because everyone else was bizarrely good. Virtually everyone in the party was scoring over 100 - even women! I guess bowling must be a more popular pastime in Japan than the UK.

Prizes were awarded at the end, and I did surprisingly well for myself considering my woeful performance. I picked up the booby prize, which seemed a little unfair because I'm pretty sure at least one person got a worse score than me. This was a bottle of ice tea and some vouchers for the local onsen, the latter of which is actually quite a good prize. Despite carrying my dead weight my team came third, so I got some beer to take home too.

Back in Akayu, a few of us went for a nijikai (second party) at a bar. Thankfully, it wasn't a hostess bar. Like a hostess bar though, one didn't buy individual drinks but rather had a barmaid offering repeated refills of shochu. I still don't really understand the economics of this style of drinking - I think maybe you buy the bottle at the start? The snack on offer was dried squid, surely the chewiest food on the planet. When you first put it in your mouth you think that there has been some mistake: there is no way this leathery strap can possibly be edible. But after a good 30s of chewing it begins to soften up, and within a couple of minutes you've swallowed it. I quite like it; like pistachio nuts it's a snack and a project in one. We finally rounded off the night with a trip to the ramen shop, where a man more drunk than us was buying beers out of a vending machine for everyone in the place.

The following night was the Moustache Dash in Yamagata City. This was a pub crawl attended by ALTs from all over Yamagata, with the theme being that everyone had to have a moustache. I decided not to grow one, because I'm still trying to make a good impression here. Instead I adopted the slightly insane plan of shaving my head and sticking the hair to my face with double-sided tape. I ended up doing this in a bit of a hurry, and as a result I looked like a actual mentalist. It was a bit like Rivers Cuomo's terrible moustache circa the Red Album. I couldn't face being seen in public without the context of a load of other gaijin with dodgy facial hair, so for the trip to Yamagata I wore one of the facemasks Japanese people wear when they have a cold. As I was sitting on the train, my glasses steaming up with every breath, worrying about whether my moustache was poking out the sides of my mask, I questioned whether this had really been such a good idea.

Surprisingly, I wasn't the only person foolish enough to stick my own head hair to my face. A female ALT had had the same idea, and executed it much better than I had. The night itself was predictably disgraceful - we started with nomihodai (all you can drink) from 7pm, and didn't stop drinking until we staggered into a ramen shop at about 4am. Andrea will be pleased to hear that along the way I had my first Mos Burger, though to be honest I don't remember it all that clearly. I don't think I did anything to embarrass myself (though did I tell one guy that he had 'a challenging interpersonal style' - he really did though), but as with any heavy drinking session, it's difficult to shake of the feeling that you may have acted like a total jerk.

Wow, what a marathon post. One of these days I'll write a blog entry that doesn't make me sound like an alcoholic.

Edit: I forgot to debrief you on my Don't speak lesson. The class consisted of one student as it turned out. It didn't bomb, bit it wasn't a soaraway success either. I'd say 6 out of 10. Yet again, I overestimated the English ability of the average third-grade kid. Still, the student said it was kakkoii ('cool').


  1. God - I needed a laugh this morning and now I will go through the day with the image of you, mask, stuck on moustache, steamed up glasses. You have brightened my day :-) Thanks Finlay,
    Speak soon x

  2. Yay!! You are no longer a Mos Burger virgin in the land of the rising sun! I have the impression you were still drunk from a previous drinking session when you decided to stick head hair to your face. Typical. miss you muchos x