Saturday, January 8, 2011

When new year the sirens coming

(I wrote this on friday.)

Happy year of the rabbit! The Japanese seem to be quite into the Chinese years, but curiously celebrate them when the Western calendar rolls over.

I'm not sure whether I've just left home or returned home, but in any case, I'm back in Japan. I deftly surfed the timezones to completely avoid the onset of 2011, as I was in fact nowhere at midnight (local). Tokyo was a balmy 10 degrees and disappointingly bereft of snow, but as the shinkansen negotiated the mountain pass into Yamagata there were some sizable drifts in evidence, and I arrived in Akayu to find it under a good couple of feet of snow, a metre of the stuff having reportedly fallen on the 28th.

I was met at the station by my quasi-supervisor who, for reasons best known to himself, insisted on custody of my car and house keys while I was away. Waiting for me at home was a familiar-looking sake box. It was the one I had taken to Danny and Anna's Christmas roast, and Danny had sent it all the way back to its town of origin, containing - to use the description he'd written on the customs form - a "clay T-rex with walking stick". As after-dinner entertainment, we'd had a dinosaur modelling contest, and unbeknownst to me, Danny had taken it upon himself to fire and paint the sculptures and mail them to their respective creators. He went for a red and green colour scheme, which though festive, I feel probably lacks paleontological accuracy.

Marie had invited me round for New Year festivities on the evening of the 1st. At the time I expressed the view that this might not be such a good idea because I would be so tired, but she was having none of it. Sure enough, after spending 24 hours (and losing a further nine) in various airports, planes and trains, I wasn't exactly on sparkling form. My Japanese completely failed me, and Marie was having to translate embarrassingly basic things for me. We had a mini version of last year's oshougatsu (new year) party, with a selection of traditional lucky foods: beans, herring roe, mochi (sticky rice cake), and of course plenty of sake.

During my stay in the UK, jetlag had caused me to wake up inconveniently early every morning, regardless of how late I'd stayed up drinking the night before. Predictably, I now have the opposite problem, i.e. I can't get to sleep at the appropriate time. I'd say this is worse. Thankfully, I had an unexpected extra day to recover, as it turned out the 3rd was in fact a holiday.

I used this bonus holiday to open my boarding account for the season with a gentle half-day a Tengendai Kogen. You see, much as I love Zao, I've decided to eschew the 10 non-consecutive days pass I got last year, and explore some other places. Tengendai is a small resort (maybe 0.4 Cg, but with considerably better uplift facilities than you'd find in Scotland). It has a reputation for good snow; its posters make the very improbable claim '100% powder', which I would say wasn't really true on that particular day. The place was pretty decent, but with few runs and no freestyle facilities to speak of, I'm not sure it would hold my interest for a full day. I'm pleased to say that my new boots from Santa (via a delightful shop assistant that I took an oddly intense shine to) are excellent and fit like a glove.

It is now shinnenkai (new year party) season. I missed the first wave of festive piss-ups - the bounenkais (lit., 'forget the year party') - because of my trip, but I'm catching the second one. Last night I was out with the teachers of my current school, and tonight I do it again with the board of education. Fortunately, my Japanese problems turned out to be temporary; last night my randomised seat put me nowhere near any English speakers, but I was ok. If people talk to me slowly and deliberately, and are patient about getting responses, I can just about manage general chit-chat these days. Understanding people talking to each other naturally is still beyond me, but I feel (possibly incorrectly) that I'm getting close.

One final thing to round out this formless hodgepodge of a post: I had to buy new indoor shoes this week. If, like me, you have 28cm (UK size 10) feet (that's right, acting my age and shoe size are equivalent in Japan), you can get shoes here, but your selection is quite limited. I was particularly disappointed that the moccasins with a big marijuana leaf and 'The power of grass' written on them weren't available larger than a 27. Though drugs are very, very illegal in Japan, cannabis / Rastafarian imagery is weirdly popular, causing me to wonder whether people actually understand what the leaf is. Anyway, as amusing reasons to buy new shoes go, I think mine is pretty good: I left my old ones, along with my monogrammed chopsticks, in a condemned building that has subsequently been partially demolished.