Friday, September 3, 2010

Ska tissue

It's official: in the 113 years since records began in Nippon, this has been the hottest ever summer. At least I can now feel smugly hardcore while sweating my gonads off in the 35°C September heat.

Thanks to a combination of school trips and work experience, there has been a distinct lack of pupils at school for the last three days. For once it is not just me who is underemployed; all the teachers who aren't off herding kids around museums are taking it pretty easy. We've been going out for lunch, where of course we are served by our students doing their work experience.

I feel I have put this slack time to quite good use, in that I reckon I am now ready to take on 3月 9日 (March 9th) by レミオロメン (Remioromen; doesn't mean anything as far as I can tell) in a public karaoke setting. The song was recommended to me by one of the speech contestants I was coaching - his English is outstanding, and he reckoned that if I liked Radiohead I would like these guys. In fact, this music chat happened when I was supposed to be making him practice his speech. Before anyone objects to my lackadaisical approach, he won the contest. It was a cunning educational stratagem on my part.

Let's carry on catching up with August's events. My grand-predecessor (who had my job from 2004-7) came to town, and I went out drinking with him twice, once with my civil servant hat on, and once with Marie et al. (Incidentally, both events were at the same ever-popular Italian bistro, where I also went for lunch today.) He seemed like a really nice guy, and my only regret was that we didn't have more opportunity to discuss the realities of the job without having to worry who was listening. (Though mumbling quickly in colloquial English is a useful stealth measure in a pinch.)

He was quite an inspiration to me on the Japanese front. From talking to Marie, I got the impression that he, like me, didn't take naturally to the language in the way that some do. But he persevered, and while far from fluent, was able to handle izakaya chats in a way I can currently only dream of. Listening to him, he wasn't producing that much grammar or vocab that I didn't understand; the crucial difference was that he was able to think fast enough to bust these linguistic moves at a pace approximating a normal conversation. My competitive streak came out, and I started to push the communicative envelope to keep up. At one point we realised we were rather redundantly talking to each other in Japanese. Anyway, I think getting up to his level is a worthwhile goal for me to aim for.

August is when JETs get turned over. Due to my friends' visit, I had missed most farewell parties, which was fine by me since I'm not great with goodbyes. But one somewhat close friend of mine had lingered to the very end of his visa's one month's grace period, and called me up out of the blue to invite me for one last Kappa Sushi before he got the shink out of here (my town may be small, but it is on the shink line). As the assembled party of well-wishers waved goodbye at the station, I was astonished to find that I was choked with emotion. I didn't actually cry, but I was unable to speak for a good ten minutes. I wasn't even that upset when I said goodbye to my family at Edinburgh airport. I can only attribute this to a) being a bit overtired b) some lingering effects of culture shock and c) having had no warning and thus not being able to mentally steel myself.

Last weekend I went to a small music festival, at none other than Zao. There are two main benefits and one problem with holding a festival at a ski resort.

  • The altitude takes the edge off the heat slightly.
  • While being suitably remote for an event of its kind, the amenities (toilets, car parking) to accommodate a large number of people are there.

  • Con:
  • Getting to the 'Moon Stage' means walking several hundred metres up a red run, criss-crossed by sneaky drainage ditches, in the dark.

  • The festival was free; I only had to pay 1000yen to park my car. There were of course no bands there that anyone had ever heard of, but that didn't bother me. The overall tone seemed to be quite reggae; in any other country the air would have been thick with deadly marijuana fumes. Fortunately, the music frequently bled over into ska territory. I think the Moon Stage had some banging techno, but no-one could be bothered to go there.

    I was in two minds about whether to drink. I had friends there offering me space in their tent, but I knew that even in the unlikely event that I drank a sensible amount, the next day would be written off due to the terrible night's sleep I would undoubtedly have. Predictably, I gave into temptation within minutes. There had been a lot of talk lately about playing (I use that verb loosely) Amy Winehands. In case you don't know, this is a drinking 'game' where you duct-tape wine bottles to each of your hands and are not permitted to remove them until they are empty. Thus, a fellow reprobate and I ended up with bottles taped to our hands. She was Amy; I took it in a slightly different direction and became Edward Sakehands. (They were only 300ml bottles, I'm not insane.)

    We chilled on the hillside, we skanked, we watched some skaters that had set up a small half-pipe. We met some new JETs from the other end of the prefecture, and although the sake was no longer bonded to my hands, it was firmly attached to my GABA receptors, so I doubt I made a very good impression. I got chatting to a French punk band. As we got into the small hours and the music ended, we ended up befriending some Japanese hipsters. Even through my drunken haze, it was painfully apparent that they were much, much cooler than us (and younger than me, naturally), and if it wasn't for our gaijin mystique our conversation would never be happening. I spent a long time talking to a man who - as far as I could make out - was unironically wearing a trilby, though to be fair he actually came across as a sincere and intelligent guy, if a little over-confident. Also present was a tiny, elfin-looking chick who was very cute in that slightly annoying way that seems to be popular among certain young Japanese women. She claimed to be a talent scout for a record label.

    Looking back on the whole experience, I realised that when I was around 20 and (more) impressionable, this would have seemed like just about the coolest conceivable way to spend an evening. A music festival! With ska! And skaters! Up a mountain in Japan! With hot Japanese chicks! Now that I'm well on my way to being a curmudgeonly old man, my enthusiasm was tempered by the feelings of derision and vicarious embarrassment that are inevitably roused in me when I see bongos or Che Guevara T-shirts. I'm not sure whether that's progress. Nevertheless, it was an excellent night.

    As forecast, I got a pretty bad night's sleep, and woke to find myself in a superheated tent with amateurish karaoke blasting from the PA system. I had a 'biggu baagaa' (big burger) for breakfast, which turned out to be a grotesque lardfest that made a doner kebab look like a chick-pea and tofu salad. I hung around only long enough to convince myself that I was safe to drive, then headed home. That (saturday) afternoon, I had to help set up for the following day's sports day, which was a task I needed like a hole in the head.

    In the evening it became clear that I had food poisoning. Though it could have been the curry I barely remember eating the night before, I'm pointing the finger of suspicion squarely at the biggu baagaa. However, as long as one has unfettered access to a toilet, I find there's something almost enjoyably cathartic about a serious bout of the Brad Pitts. Just think, some idiots pay good money to have their bowels so thoroughly evacuated.


    1. Hottest summer since records began, where are your global warming denial gods now!?!
      (seriously that makes me feel a lot better about all the times we hid in air conditioned places rather than seeing the sights).

    2. Did Martin come back? Cool!

      I didn't know him that well because we lived at opposite ends of the prefecture, but I know he liked to travel a lot within Japan by himself. He also spent lots of time with Japanese people. That must have helped with his Japanese skills!!

      I saw pics of you on Alda's Facebook as Edward Sakehands. Very funny!!!

      Glad you're having a good time lately!!

      Mon :)