Because the world needs more overwrought candour.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Osaka at dawn

What a wonderful night. I lied in my last post when I said I was going out to a club with 'friends' - friends would imply previous meetings and some kind of shared history. This, on the other hand, was a night straight out of leftfield, courtesy of a simple, free language exchange ad and Japanese hospitality. "Why not just come out clubbing with my and my friends," wrote K, and indeed, why not? New country, new rules.

So I ventured out and made contact at Umeda's Bigman, the Osakan equivalent of meeting under the clocks at Flinders St. The Bigman is a giant television screen, which entertains those waiting - another Japanese innovation. All you can do at Flinders St is watch the clocks impatiently. So we met - K, T and F - and ran smack bang into a swamp of language difficulties and an awkward night appeared imminent, when my saviour appeared, another of Kiyono's friends, D, who was thankfully American. We made our way to an izakaya and attempted conversation. I made miming small talk about tattoos - both K and T were masters of self-tattooing, a practice which has always made me wince and then the table broke into animated Japanese. I could pick up words occasionally, but it was mostly a wash of sound. While the language is resolving itself into components a little now, it's still so fast and fluid. After each burst of conversation, D would translate. It was like having delayed subtitles on a movie, one in which the pictures didn't want anything to do with the audio. The food was great - fried chicken skin, raw octopus, slivers of pickled vegetables. As expected, my planned evening budget blew out wildly; food and drinks at the izakaya led to a taxi which led to a 2000 yen entry fee to the first club and many more drinks which in turn gave way to a stumbling walk to a second club and another thousand yen entry fee before another taxi and then dawn ramen (noodles) and a very early train. Now I really am broke. But it was well worth penury; after a dose of bonding and grinning at the izakaya, the night seamlessly moved on to a fumbling seduction of the teenage kind; dancing was followed by drunken close dancing which was followed by drunken kissing which was followed by K falling asleep on my shoulder in the second club which was followed by slurping noodles and an early hangover, while the ramen cook bedevilled K with questions about her weakness for foreign men, which was followed by a yawning farewell at dawn. How decadent.


Yesterday was the last day of the year at my kindergarten and the parents came in to see their child in action. This meant we had to jump, sing and dance for a solid hour to keep the tots (and their paying parents) amused. I'd been selected as the Story Teller of the day, a job which is usually quite easy. But with the parents there, I was suddenly enormously nervous. So I practiced the story, 'My Pet' in a room, and then deciding in a panic that spicing up was required, I collared D and got him to act out each pet action. The kids loved the new version, except for D's lion impersonation, which made several children cry, and his depiction of an eagle, which nearly ended in tragedy as the children imitated him at high speed. It was like a real performance - terrifying.


Friday, March 25, 2005

The working life

Well, the gloss has come off the job. I still love it, but I have managed to single out aspects which suck. This means I now have Perspective. One of the things that sucks is the commute, which takes a ridiculous length of time. The second is kid shit.

I was doing so well, so very well. Every single diaper (we are an 'international' kindergarten, which as usual translates as American. I'm seriously going to come back with a US accent and slight Filipino inflection) I had changed was beautifully, gloriously clean, or a little wet. Yesterday, it all changed for the worse. God, kid shit stinks. It is a vile, vile thing. I don't know what their parents feed them. The perpetrator lay on his back, humming, eyes moving about the ceiling, a picture of innocence, while I toiled away cleaning his ass for him. Oh, the glamour of working in Japan. The next day, I had another unpleasant surprise.

So the sheen of my beautiful new job was already fading by the time I met our new co-worker, T. I saw him and disliked him immediately, passionately and irrationally. I gave him two days to allow the irrationality to pass, and it did. I now dislike him rationally. He is a fuck. To begin with, he says everything he doesn't like is 'bullshit' which is irritating. He swans about, seeks attention, and has one of those angular Adam's apples which bob obscenely when he talks. He doesn't really get along with the kids, except for the most undiscerning of the bunch, and once told me he enjoyed making them cry. His attitude to Japanese girls is of an untapped resource and he has real lust in his eyes. He's a German Jew who lived in Israel and picked up a dose of arrogance from both countries. In short, within two days of meeting him, I wanted to kill him.

Being forced to work with this man has led me to think that the anti-gaijin sentiments which are supposedly out there are at least partially deserved. I'm meeting more white people I don't like here than I ever did in Australia. It's like the West is exporting their crap. That doesn't include me of course, because I'm the scathing observer and therefore immune.


Writing about the delights of working with Japanese toddlers may well be boring you, my readers, so I will try to spice things up. I had a Semi-Hot Date on Wednesday night with N. It was semi-hot because she talked a lot about her ex-boyfriend. I'm terrible at dating so I don't know what that means. But it was interesting, anyhow; her ex (Australian) was earning many, many times more than I will ever make, which she partly attributed to her intervention. She suggested using Japanese methods, which involve bestowing gifts and deference on your superiors. At the end of the date, she gave me a pile of MacDonalds vouchers for free meals (I had confessed to my abject poverty). A little embarassing. But only a little.

Tonight, I'm finally going out on the town with some friends, and thankfully not to a gaijin bar. The trains stop at 12.30, which seems a little bit backwards. This means that for me to go out in Osaka proper, I have to have a tiny night, or a massive one. This is a problem. I am a middling night kinda person; I start yawning around three, and drinking more makes it worse.


I've started taking Japanese lessons with a self-described 'torture teacher'. After the first lesson, she made me memorize hiragana and katakana in a week. Surprisingly, I managed, and it's great - I can painstakingly read some advertisments now. The Japanese translate Western words into Japanese using katakana, a seperate syllabary designed for that purpose (again quarantining foreign influence). So, Tom Cruise is Tomu Kuruizu; Ayers Rock is Earuzu Roku. It's a great feeling to be able to translate, even if only a little.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Troublemakers and small children

Before we moved into our hostel, I performed a cursory Google on it and found some fine be-yotching about a certain long term resident, who was labelled a "troublemaker". We moved here anyway (never trust the net, yeah?). Ever since I've been here, I've been trying to figure out who, if anyone, is the person who generated anonymous net gossip. The mystery only lasted a couple of weeks. This time round, the bitcher was largely accurate.

This long term resident, J, is a complex character. It would be nice to label her a crackpot and have done with it, but there is a lot of pain there, a nomad whose restlessness has taken her from England to Qatar to Romania to Japan. She used to be Australian, but her accent has been shorn and tweaked by every country she spent time in, producing a peculiarly global English. She is a bore who assumes her every action is of interest (the first time we met, she performed a fine solo on the problems with Microsoft Excel), but also a mine of useful information. Great friends with A, a resident who moved out but recently, she relied on him for emotional support. No significant others; a workaholic; she has friends, but a world-weary face.

That's the background. The troublemaking kicks in when you introduce the house-owner and administrator, Ms. W. I've had no issues with her so far; the house seems a little rule-heavy, but enforcement is minimal. However, the obstreperous J did encounter difficulties of the rent kind (I believe) and was asked to move out. She refused, and brought in the lawyers. Many ichiman (ten thousand yen) later, she was firmly ensconced in her room, where she has now lived for 12 years. This hostel is kinda pricy; she could get a cheaper, better room closer to work very easily. The situation between the warring parties reminds me of a frozen sea; a perpetual battle captured in stalemate. They are usually icily polite, but J (who, I must admit, often shits me to tears) will often explode into action, storming into the office to demand a shortcut to Word on the desktop or other similarly trivial things. The services are carried out with brisk efficiency and minimal contact. J often darkly mutters to me about 'her' in the kitchen but so far I have avoided taking sides at all. Both sides won't relent until someone dies, I reckon.


I went hiking near Kyoto yesterday and now I can't move my legs. It seemed like a good idea to run the whole way down, slipping and sliding in the mud, leaping from rock to log, swinging around trees in a joyously primal manner, overtaking Japanese hiking groups and leaving them with a fading sumimasen! Like much glorious boyishness, it seemed like a good idea at the time. Today, the weight of a single restless toddler on my knee was enough to make me squeal.

Still, the hike was grand. 15km or so; I saw a snow monkey and pilgrims with bear bells; cedar and remnant snow; a Buddhist temple at the top of the mountain complete with a meditating monk. I went with Jeremy, my new favourite person. He's an American thirty year old child with a ponytail and hat and a smile that the word goofy was invented for. He's delightfully idealistic, and his laugh is so infectious that I find myself really trying to set one off so I can partake too. He is someone I would like to keep from my time here. Conversation flowed easily; miles were eaten by legs and we sweated heavily in the rare sunshine. We took our shirts off after the first hour or so, to the shock of the middle aged trekkers who repeatedly asked us if we were 'samui' (cold) and then laughed/shook their heads at us at our departing backs. Jeremy's fluency in Japanese permitted Real Interactions with the hikers going in the same direction, and we were often surrounded by a gaggle of curious, friendly Japanese. One incident in particular stands out; we were racing down a steep hill, a small group noticed our rapid descent and stood aside for us. We left them with a few sumimasens, which made one woman say to her friend, wow, they can speak Japanese. This, in turn, made Jeremy shake his head and laugh. Sumi masen is about as easy as you can get. We talked about this a bit; he's been here three years, and he was begining to chafe at the culture gap, or at least the culture gap that he thought was deliberately erected by the Japanese to keep outsiders from entering. I told him about my two unusual encounters - S crying and the Japanese guy plucking my hairs. Jeremy laughed. You know why that happened, he said, that's because you are a foreigner and outside their frame of social reference, so they can interact with you in an entirely different way of their choosing. He might be right. I just read an article about foreign journalists in Japan; many Japanese journalists use foreign journalists to break a story on the various unmentionables - the burakumin (the former lowest caste who are still discriminated against), yakuza, bad news on zaibatsu, the Imperial Family and so on. An interesting idea, though, that there is this freedom of social interaction between cultures because of the lack of common ground and culture.


We got back to civilisation and hitched a lift back into Kyoto. It was a crazy ride - no seatbelts, with the guy and his wife looking over their shoulders at us the whole time, talking to Jeremy. We nearly killed some people, and then nearly killed some more by mounting the pavement in an effort to track down pedestrians for their local knowledge of train stations for us. After each burst of conversation, Jeremy would translate and annotate it with his own thoughts - perhaps they wanted to ask us for dinner? how would we refuse? - and it was excellent, having a Secret Impenetrable Code, like a voiceover in a movie. They left me at a station, after the woman took me across several streets and down into the station, making sure I wouldn't get lost. It was very kind and made me think I had been inaccurate in thinking underlying anti-gaijin sentiments were rife.


At the restaurant on Saturday and again on the hike, I managed to terrify a number of small children unwittingly. Since I now Work With Kids, I think I have an automatic right to pick up small children on the street and whisk them round my head making aeroplane noises. It's a hard impulse to resist, sometimes. Anyhow, at the restaurant, a small boy snuck up behind me and then skulked past, stealing a look at me. The second time he did it, I went boo! and opened my arms. The kid shat himself and fell over backwards, nearly hitting his head on the table. He sat there on his ass with a rabbit-in-the-headlights look on his face, terror mixed with fate. It was great. Then, on the hike, another kid wasn't looking where he was going until he was very close to me; finally glancing upwards, he saw a towering gaijin with flaming red hair and a phenomenonally large nose coming towards him at speed. Cue kid shitting himself and darting to one side in half a second flat. It's strange - I suppose I have this assumption that all Japanese kids are secretly like the kids I 'teach' - inured to the foreigners surrounding them in their gaijin petting zoo.

Small plug

An article I wrote is up here.

(The link is back up again)


Sunday, March 20, 2005

On the outer/out on the town

Gaijin experience life here as a kind of overlay - we are positioned on the top of the culture, clinging to the small latches and hooks and access points we find. Jennifer Poulson, a half-Japanese, half-American woman who I interviewed for my Cub Story writes that:

The term ‘gaijin’ is despised by some foreigners. It reminds them that they can never be on the inside in a society which is governed by an “us-and-them” mentality. The Japanese flag depicting the rising sun is telling. A small, tightly knit, radiant core of insiders as represented by the sun, floating amongst a sea of outsiders that will never stain the cloth pink.

But for a culture which supposedly abhors foreignness, and only accepts new, external ideas once it has made them uniquely Japanese, cleansed of taint, there is much kindness and much interest in foreigners. I spent two nights this week with people who I did not know at first, but their good humor, willingness to laugh and their interest in the other has no hint of antagonism, no hint of comparison or superiority. But these were people who reached out to me; perhaps Poulson is talking more of the older generation, like the lurking Hansonites in Australia who are irked by 'Asians' and conveniently forget that in the fifties we invited millions of Southern Europeans (who were then counted as 'non-whites') to Australia to work and that we are much the richer for it.


Thursday night, I got drunk with a Welshman and a Japanese science teacher, A. It was an unexpectedly good night, which I paid with a hangover at work the next day. As an extra bonus, the drunken middle aged couple from two weeks ago were there. They were up to their old tricks, but in a different bar. They had unfortunately positioned themselves on bar stools, rather than kneeling on the ground, and were teetering dangerously on the edge. It was the same dynamic as before - the man wooing the woman with loud witticisms, drunken sloshing of words. They swayed in and out of each other's orbits, eyes caught and held. Before we sat down, we were snagged by a couple of drunk salarymen who had spotted a chance for a gaijin chat.
They tried out their fledgling English, immensely proud when meaning was communicated. One had a giant black growth on his cheek, like a colony of moles - it seems that this often happens to men over the age of fifty, they begin sprouting these cheek mushrooms. Also, in my relentless pursuit of Difference, I've uncovered the fact that most of the toddlers' backs are covered in what looks like old bruises, a greyish pattern. J, the head teacher said that when she first got here, she thought they were real bruises, but not so; no-one seems to know what causes it, but it departs before teenage body-image paranoia.

A. took great interest in us, flexing his impressive English, but gradually the conversation moved towards centre ground; as the beer flowed freely (he paid for our drinks all night), so did the conversation. Most Japanese don't seem to like talking about politics. Perhaps that's because it isn't particularly interesting; the centre-right LDP has ruled since WWII with the aid of the big zaibatsu, ('financial cliques' - think diversified mega-corporations like Mitsubishi) except for a minor upset in 1993, after the bubble burst in 1990. Akira had no such reluctance, even daring a couple of unorthodox jabs at the Imperial Family, still largely sacrosant. A little in his cups, he gathered us in conspiratorially. "You can't tell anyone I told you this," he announced, "but some of our Emperors were probably Korean". (This, if true, would be a Definitive Blow against the rising neotraditionalists and nationalists who hold the Emperor and Japan's brief imperial history as near-holy articles of faith). How did he find this out? His voice dropped another notch. "Because inside several imperial coffins are Korean artifacts. But the truth will never get out." That wasn't all, either. "Did you know that Hirohito was a Freemason, and that's why he started a Japanese empire?" We didn't know that one either. Actually, it was surprising he knew who the Freemasons are, considering I recently had to tell someone what a Pope is. Different worlds, I spose.

From there, it was an easy road to religion, and he confessed to being a Buddhist who didn't believe in Buddhism. "Buddha said, do not worship me and do not follow me. Do not trust any ideas too much, even mine," said A, which was all Zen to me. Here, Huw (the Welsh connection) chimed in. "I've started meditating twice a day to try and still my mind," he said. A had been meditating for thirty years, and testified to its power. The two started talking technique and clarity and peace and I walked unsteadily to the little boy's room. Returning, the conversation had somehow metastasized into violence, and the peaceful Buddhist was demonstrating the Five Ways to Kill a Man that he knew. He was the most interesting science teacher I've ever met, that's for sure.


Saturday night, Row and I went out to dinner/drinks with three Japanese girls, one Japanese guy and an American woman. Embarassingly, I met them through an ad I posted for 'language exchange', which is code for I don't know anyone here, please help me out. After initial awkwardness was overcome, the night became really quite good. Our
hosts guided us into a Japanese take on Chinese restaurants, which was all you can at. Conversation proceeded in fits and bursts, assisted by amusement at mispronunciations and double takes and I took frequent refuge in the American woman. At first a bit leery of us, the Japanese guy eventually warmed up to us and came and sat next to me, peering at me quizzically. He told me that he was about to start work as a marketeer, which (according to him) consisted of bowing and handing out of business cards in a particular manner. The method of card handing had to be with full eye contact, corner first, a 15 degree bow. (He was gently mocking himself for my benefit, which was great). Then tragedy struck - he noticed my chest hair, protruding a little over my tshirt in an elegantly understated way. I have a reasonable rug of chest hair, and this was of great interest to him. He began gesticulating rapidly, and I was led to believe through this that Japanese men had no chest hair, but reserved their hirsuteness for their pubic region (this required an interesting sequence of gestures). He then gestured to my groin, with a wondering look. This was much too personal for the first date (what would that be? Somewhere between second and third base, mentally speaking?) and for the rest of the evening I had to bat him away from tugging out my arm hairs and worse. It was bizarre, but great. We talked about religion again; the American woman was a Christian Scientist (I always thought that was a joke) but I didn't get to probe; the Japanese girls were a little taken aback at the question. Shinto Buddhist, one ventured finally. She said she prayed sometimes at the family shrine, but when I asked her who she prayed to, she couldn't answer, and I had to suggest her ancestors (this was right). What a place - an entire country of people who never needed a fleshed out afterlife, a culture living as transients, accepting their impermanence. I suppose on an island chain of volcanos, plagued by earthquakes and typhoons, it's hard to believe in anything truly solid. The night ended with re-enactments of Saturday Night Fever (sadly, American cultural imperialism had neglected to instill them with the Greats), miming, large drink bills and the last train home, shared with N, one of the Japanese girls. Although she'd been my initial contact, she'd been a bit standoffish during the evening, and I was beginning to suspect her of being a princess. She had the lips of a pouter, the reluctance to work a part time job which indicates a moneyed family, and a habit of mentioning her ex-boyfriend, and then pouting. On the train home, she loosened up a bit and proved herself to be much better company. But she did say one very interesting thing - we were talking about Korea, and she said she didn't like Korea at all, too racist - she got pointed at in the streets and ostracised. I bit my tongue and Didn't Mention the War and the invasion of Korea and death and all that 'old' history. And as for the way the Japanese treat Koreans who live here (many of whom are the descendants of indentured labour in the Japanese colonial period), well, I didn't mention that either. Losing face = bad.

For all that, and for all my mentions of Japanese dislike of outsiders, in my experience, the fabled Japanese xenophobia has been non-existent; a few direct looks from old men, but nothing like one of Hanson's 'Asians' could expect in deep suburbia. On the whole, I've been treated with more kindness and friendliness than I had any right to expect, more than in any Western country. Perhaps this is partly the lingering exoticism of Whiteness, still a novelty in a country where novelty reigns, but I think there is also genuine interest, especially amongst the young.

On the train home, a salaryman collapsed out the door at one of the stations, blind blotto drunk, and a random stranger gathered him up in a heap and lugged him back on the train. I've heard it said that the younger generations of Japanese are steering clear of alcohol out of embarassment of the drunkeness of their salarymen fathers, forced into virtual servitude to recreate Japan as a force and a proud nation and allowed rare outlets for their long, long hours of wage-slave labour. Oh, and at a station, I saw a well-dressed young man standing against a wall, looking for prey; girl spotted, he homed in, talking fast, herding her into a corner but she broke free and made it to the ticket machine and safety.


Today, I witnessed my first Right Wing Sound Truck. While most people aren't too interested in politics, the nationalists and traditionalists certainly are. They drive around in large buses, with an entourage of smaller cars, and blare loud slogans, which I believe are all about Patriotism and Japan as a Unique Nation and Japanese Power and all that kind of scary pre-militarist shit which seems kinda hip right now. Maybe the political fashion cycle is rolling round to fascism again, or whatever the Japanese equivalent was. The men in the buses wore uniforms, and proud flags were harnessed for platform building purposes, tacked to every possible surface. It's more than a bit scary.

Work; Perks

On Thursday, the station was brimming, people backed up to the exits and a hum of gossip and anxiety filled the air. My workmates and I talked in a tight little cluster. A suicide, it has to be, said someone. Most of us agreed. The station staff ran up and down the platform, reassuring salarymen, apologising profusely. Sirens flared in the distance, and time stretched out as the cleanup crew went into action. At last, a train arrived, the killer, windows steamed up, a grim tolerance on the faces of those who poured out. Our train went past the place where someone killed themselves ten minutes ago; it was already clean, a crowd dispersing. "You know what's bizarre", said Jeremy, "what's strange is that the railways charge the family of the suicide for the cleanup bill and for slowing down the network." Most of us knew of that particular Japanese quirk ""Yeah, but did you know that a few rail companies decided that it would be cost-effective to start up suicide prevention lines?" I said. This was also common knowledge. Then Jeremy offered something new. "Not only that, but people who want to die prefer to commit suicide in front of a JR (Japanese Railways) train, because it is cheaper for their family." This particular tidbit shocked us into silence. "You're joking", said Jess. "Nope. People shop around. The private lines are just too expensive - several million yen, I think." How remarkable.

While I'm on Japanese peculiarities, take this one. Japanese train/department store companies will sometimes build an entirely new train line, primarily to place consumers within their department stores, which comprise the bulk of each station. I suppose it's a little bit like independent petrol outlets in Australia - none of them make money on petrol, but just use petrol as a way to put people near their overpriced goods.


I'm fickle with my affections, and this week, my allegiance to certain toddlers has shifted. Hina, she of the ankle-biting infatuation with all things Doug, has become rapidly annoying. She has a fit whenever I dare pay attention to another child, and if I -shockhorror- actually pick a rival up, she throws a wild tantrum on the floor. But she always comes back, snottily faithful. The thing is, she doesn't know what to do with my attention when she has it. She doesn't like learning colours or numbers or names; she pays me tithes of lego bricks and fluffy toys to win my favour, but squanders it by crawling all over me, a restless little creature. She clumsily wields blocks to defend her rights to my left leg, leaving a trail of crying children behind her, but then does nothing but gaze at me with puppy eyes. In short, she needs a wake up call, because, baby, this thing just ain't gonna work. No, this sickening devotion and desperation has made her appeal shrink, and I've already made my way to cuter climes. Moeko has continued her winning ways, flouncing about in her Rastafarian beret, complete with marijuana leaf embroidered on top. She has improbably large eyes, anime style, and chipmunk cheeks. But Rai is definitely my favourite at the moment. She pioneered the where-are-my-hands game, and her delighted face when she fools me for the tenth time (where could they possibly be?) always melts my little heart. She's warmhearted, and can't stand it when other children are crying. Most other kids stand around the weeper in a circle, watching silently, looks of uncertainty and a vague unfulfilled reponsibility in their eyes. Not Rai. Rai sweeps in with a tissue, dabs it all over the crying face, which is ineffective but adorable, and then consoles them until an adult arrives and her face relaxes into happiness.


It's a beautiful irony that toddlers, the most self-centred segment of the human life-cycle, are the creatures who are most unable to satisfy their own needs and desires. Most of us have to wait until we're old enough to get credit cards. I love watching this frustration play across their faces. They want instant gratification - hugs, food, blocks - but they can't do a damn thing about it. I think it's why kids learn so quickly, to overcome this frustration, why they strain to make ungainly fingers click open a locked cupboard door.

I'm also fascinated by the way causality is slowly dawning on these children. Takumi will grow up to be a big, strong bully, and he's in training right now. Clonk! goes Thomas the Tank Engine, connecting with Soshin's head. Waa! goes Soshin, after the initial look of surprise passes. Takumi sits there, weapon in hand, with a vague look of guilt on his face, as if he knows that the two events are somehow connected, and that he was the instigator, the catalyst between these two nows. Still, also, there is this guilelessness and placidity which hangs on his face and covers causal guilt. He has an inkling that he should feel bad and that his frequent visits to the corner for special Takumi time are also linked to this inkling, but right now, these ideas are still coalescing.


I came home last night, merry, and S was there, one of my favourite people in the hostel. She was leaving the guesthouse and Osaka, returning home to smalltown Japan after four years and we talked about it a little, we joked, tickled, awkward across cultures. The clown of the house, she was the most outward looking, the laughing one, the imitator, the one who first made us feel welcome. Recently, I'd been frustrated by her clownishness - it seemed impossible to actually come to know her at all; our conversations were glancing, transit talk. But this time, for once, there was no-one else around and we talked with more ease - she'd stayed up all night packing and was about to do it for the second night. We made smalltalk about her departure and her graduation that day - the streets were filled with girls in kimonos, lightstepping, filling the lines at McDonalds - and then she left to go and pack and I sank a little, another lost opportunity to actually talk. A few minutes later she returned, loitered, and we talked again, first about the children at my kindergarten and then about whether she would ever have children and then I asked whether she had a boyfriend, because she was secretive about such things. She said no and then started telling me about her old boyfriends, oldest to newest, but the closer to the present she came, the more she began to stumble and defer and guide conversation away. Then she began to cry, softly, her makeup washing down her face and she leant inwards to cover her shame with her hair.

All the time she cried, she apologised for crying, for losing face, for exposing her pain. She would not tell me what had happened to make her grieve so deeply but she skirted it well enough to trace the outlines. A boy, a heartbreak, damage, a wound that she covered. But what she alluded to was more than simple heartbreak, it was pain writ large and huge, something more, something bigger, something which had to be concealed. She told me of manufacturing the clown version of herself as her outward face - how Japanese! - because she did not want people to think of her as the one who was always mourning or hurting. The outpouring made it through her uneven english on the power of emotions buried too well. It was incredible - if she had left without this happening, I would not have really known her at all. I tried to persuade her that the pain must surface, that the only way out is through, and that it was impossible do it alone, but against the defences she'd erected, it was hard to make cliche sound like truth. Ah, it is hard to write this without being trite. But I felt so privileged that she had allowed me to see her like this, so lucky. The intensity is hard to describe, this unveiling, this baring and racking weeping. It was a connection, a real one - a world away from her daytime persona, our glancing conversations.

I left her alone at three am or so, and she packed the rest of the night. I hoped that we could talk again, she was to leave in three days, but time was too short, her parents arrived today and packed her up and took her away early and now, on the edge of some truth, something real, nothing. It's made me a little sad, a little happy - a fine balance of bittersweet maudlinery, of glancing lives and the intensity of now and I wish there was more time, just a little, just enough, because it was such a privilege to watch her unfold, just a little.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

The performance

Well, everybody seemed to like my rendition of 'Everybody Poops'. In fact, without meaning to boast, I'd say the audience was entranced. Possibly even intoxicated. They clung to every word I uttered, followed my every gesture with adoration and laughed in all the right places. When it was revealed that both elephants and giraffes pooped, there was nearly a riot. And when I carefully dramatised 'A one-hump camel does a one-hump poop, and a two hump camel does a two-hump poop', let me just say that audience members had to be physically restrained. In short, I rocked the kindergarten like nothing else. Expect a repeat performance sometime soon. After that, it was convieniently peepee and poopie time, and there was a general dash to the toddler-sized loos. Yep, just another glamorous day, here in Japan.


I caught the train home with J___, an excellent American (i.e, he doesn't unfavorably compare Japan to 'back home') and D___, a Colombian-Italian. The journey was memorable, to say the least. D is honest and simple, a man who likes lovemaking and likes to talk about it. Sadly, he's been constrained by a girlfriend for the last three years and so lives his life vicariously. So he told us the story of his friend Marvin with relish, as J and I exchanged glances. Marvin spends a large amount of his time on what he calls a job. His work produces a regular supply of money, and he treats it quite seriously. Marvin is a slut. He dresses well, frequents expensive bars and as a result, attracts attractive, moneyed women. He then attempts a seduction, which often works, and becomes engaged in an affair. Before long, he springs his trap, claiming that it's his birthday. The moneyed women then purchase him expensive items. Marvin has a ten thousand dollar Rolex. He has excellent furniture, a well-appointed apartment and enough free cash floating around to make this his life's work. He treats golddigging like work - organising, setting down rules, discarding those he deems unlikely to provide. He reminds me of the dodgy Russian bride websites, where lonely gullible Western men fall in love with a Russian 'bride' on the net, forward them the money for the flight and then wait at the airport for many hours until they can bring themselves to admit they've been had.

I have to meet Marvin. I really do. There is a good story to be written here, because Marvin is not alone. One of the main reasons the (largely male) expat/temporary expat community is here is to take advantage of the large pool of Japanese women who would like a foreign boyfriend. Marvin has simply refined common techniques.


Tuesday, March 15, 2005

The nose knows

Embarassingly, when I watch Japanese/Korean/Hong Kong(ese?) films, I can rarely follow what's going on, because I can't tell the main characters apart. My East Asian Facial Recognition is really rather low. Or (wait for it) so it used to be. When I first arrived, all of three weeks ago, it was like stepping into a sea of indistinguishable people, differentiated only by their uniforms - salaryman, school student, uni student. Now, they are starting to resolve themselves. Having to memorize the faces of thirty small children has helps, but mostly I've just got my shit together and the streets are now populated with individualism once more. This has had an odd side effect. I'm suddenly really rather conscious of my nose. My nose has always been fine for me; I didn't even hate it when I was a teenager. If I squint, I can see it but I presume everyone can, and at my vainest, I try on adjectives like aquiline. But here, now, in the land of snub noses, my nose sticks out like a beacon. It heralds my coming, a small triangular mountain attached to my face. While the Japanese - noses designed for speed and many G-forces - let the air wash past them easily, mine cuts the air. It's bizarre. I want a snub nose. It looks better (especially on children - Japanese children are the cutest in the whole wide world). It feels better (I imagine). And god, I wouldn't stand out nearly as much.

As a corollary, I'm coming to resent other white faces in the crowd. At first, my eyes leapt to them - familiarity! cultural similarities! open emotions I know how read (mostly commuter boredom)! - but now I hate seeing them. They stick out like I do from the amazing homogeneity.


I spent the weekend trying to decide which toddler was cutest and why, and looking forward to work again. This is a problem. I'm going to get back, and apply for Real Jobs and they will ask, what did you learn in Japan and I will mention my competency at noseblowing, asswiping, inane singing and the like.


Tomorrow, I get to read my first story in front of the class. The title of the book is, 'Everybody Poops'. True. Perhaps borrowing from an R.E.M song? The story is festooned with lurid pictures of animals 'pooping' (we use this word in our Daily Reports to Concerned Mothers and Housewives who Live For Their Children) and tales of poop being the same the world over. I suspect it will go down a treat. The thing I love about children is that they are the easiest people in the world to please, and I like pleasing people because it means I get liked back and so we all win.


I would never, ever be allowed to work in childcare in Australia without first having been police checked beyond all recognition, psych tested by the ghost of Freud and probably emasculated to boot. To get the job here, I proved that a) I speak Native English, mate, b) I can tolerate Ponyboy and c) I was desperate enough to work for Z____, the guiding light of dodgy companies everywhere. So, thank you, Japan, for being curiously lax with this particular aspect of the gaijin presence, and allowing me to testdrive fatherhood before my time.


(Oh - this blog has hit 65,000 words, I think, which has to be some kind of record in the growing field of writing-about-myself-because-I'm-so-damn-interesting)

Monday, March 14, 2005

And while I'm at it...

The very best of Yes, this amuses me. ( captures particularly stupid or amusing IRC or instant messaging conversations, but there's also a lot of crap)

#104383 +(4646)- [X]

bloodninja: Baby, I been havin a tough night so treat me nice aight?
BritneySpears14: Aight.
bloodninja: Slip out of those pants baby, yeah.
BritneySpears14: I slip out of my pants, just for you, bloodninja.
bloodninja: Oh yeah, aight. Aight, I put on my robe and wizard hat.
BritneySpears14: Oh, I like to play dress up.
bloodninja: Me too baby.
BritneySpears14: I kiss you softly on your chest.
bloodninja: I cast Lvl. 3 Eroticism. You turn into a real beautiful woman.
BritneySpears14: Hey...
bloodninja: I meditate to regain my mana, before casting Lvl. 8 chicken of the Infinite.
BritneySpears14: Funny I still don't see it.
bloodninja: I spend my mana reserves to cast Mighty F*ck of the Beyondness.
BritneySpears14: You are the worst cyber partner ever. This is ridiculous.
bloodninja: Don't f*ck with me bitch, I'm the mightiest sorcerer of the lands.
bloodninja: I steal yo soul and cast Lightning Lvl. 1,000,000 Your body explodes into a fine bloody mist, because you are only a Lvl. 2 Druid.
BritneySpears14: Don't ever message me again you piece of ****.
bloodninja: Robots are trying to drill my brain but my lightning shield inflicts DOA attack, leaving the robots as flaming piles of metal.
bloodninja: King Arthur congratulates me for destroying Dr. Robotnik's evil army of Robot Socialist Republics. The cold war ends. Reagan steals my accomplishments and makes like it was cause of him.
bloodninja: You still there baby? I think it's getting hard now.
bloodninja: Baby?
BritneySpears14: Ok, are you ready?
eminemBNJA: Aight, yeah I'm ready.
BritneySpears14: I like your music Em... Tee hee.
eminemBNJA: huh huh, yeah, I make it for the ladies.
BritneySpears14: Mmm, we like it a lot. Let me show you.
BritneySpears14: I take off your pants, slowly, and massage your muscular physique.
eminemBNJA: Oh I like that Baby. I put on my robe and wizard hat.
BritneySpears14: What the f*ck, I told you not to message me again.
eminemBNJA: Oh ****
BritneySpears14: I swear if you do it one more time I'm gonna report your ISP and say you were sending me k*ddie porn you f*ck up.
eminemBNJA: Oh ****
eminemBNJA: damn I gotta write down your names or something
Nerd action

I occasionally frequent, in memory of my wasted nerdy childhood. Lots of shit and infrequent gold:

#249231 +(707)- [X]
MrCoffee: my pokemon bring all those nerds to the yard and there like, do you wanna trade cards, damn right, lets trade some cards, ill trade you, but not my charizard


Sunday, March 13, 2005


Serepax now looks mildly spiffier, thanks to the tireless workers at Blogger. However, some comments went AWOL, which is a pity.

The 60th anniversary of the battle for Iwojima is coming up, and the Japan Times printed an article about US veterans converging on the island to remember it. There is a truly amazing quote from Raymond Beadle, 79, from Morgan City, La. "It's awesome to be back," said Beadle. "It's so different now. After fighting here, I kind of hoped the Americans would keep it, but I guess we had to give it back."

It's even better if you say it in a slow drawl. It reminds me of my toddlers - snatching toys from another kid and pouting when they have to give it back.


We were donated a local delicacy recently - cod sperm. When boiled, it resembles coral - little concentric flowers with several rings, all connected into one larger whole. The taste is indescribable, in a horrid way. Never, ever again. I nearly gagged. But in the end, I managed to swallow, not spit. Ha.


Last night there was a farewell party for the eight hostelmates who are leaving at the end of the month. It's a bit sad - my two favourites are going, S, a crazy Japanese girl with a penchant for Gollum impressions, and Chris, a towering redhaired Canadian who believes in the Apocalyptic brand of Christianity to which I was subscribed as a teenager. Having been through that (the world didn't end as promised), I was able to talk with confidence about the New World Order (beware the UN), the implantable microchips which Revelation calls the Mark of the Beast (see and the imminent arrival of the Antichrist (he's got a website too: I could even tackle the Bilderberg Group, the Council for Foreign Relations and the arcane meetings of the rich, famous and Henry Kissingers of this world at Bohemian Grove. But Chris did have some interesting footage of the 9/11 attacks; the collapse of the third building seems far too uniform to be caused by 'fire' and the official report acknowledges that there is much which is unexplained. The thing I love about the Looming Apocalypse is the way that conspiracy theorists crosspollinate their theories. So we have the Illuminati in conjunction with the Freemasons, who are secretly controlled by the Greys, the alien race represented at Area 51. People have wanted the world to end since it began; I think the appeal is partly the joy of secret knowledge, partly the appeal of a metanarrative, and partly because we vainly want to die together and not bitterly, bitterly alone as is the way with death.

That was a tangent and a half. So, the party was quite nice. Parties in Japan (well, my hostel) seem to begin and end largely with feasting, leaving Rowan and I looking a little silly and tipsy after downing two beers. But, the thing which shits me is this. I have come here to see if I can be part of another culture, another way of life and to what extent. But good conversations are dependent on, firstly, a shared language (the Japanese students are quite good at English), then shared experience (minimal) and finally, shared culture (small). I'm getting tired of talking about Australia and the differences and pretending we have a strong culture of our own. Give us time, dammit. The difficulty in real conversation was abundantly clear at the party - the Japanese students (largely female) chatted amongst themselves, while we gaijin (largely male) talked amongst ourselves about shared experiences - English teaching, Red Dwarf - and the tentative attempts to bridge the gap resulted in:

One (1) game of footjumping, a slightly physical game that requires feet and jumping and little communication. Result: laughter
Two (2) bursts of flirtation from S, the most outgoing Japanese girl. Again, however, they had to be physical, in a pinching-poking kinda way that conjures up my teenage years wonderfully well. Result: laughter

The definition of a friend for me is someone I can touch if I want to. I need to touch my friends. This, however, is not friendship, not really. I have to talk to someone to earn their friendship and earn their trust and, eventually, earn the right to touch. The culture gap looms wide - not because of innate 'difference' per se, but of innumerable small differences and a lack of commonalities. Living here, it amazes me that people talk of globalisation so smugly. Yes, people can trade with each other in English now and multinationals can fuck who they please, but that is business and not interpersonal relationships. True multiculturalism is a difficult, difficult ideal. Easy to fund, hard to achieve.

I spent the day today in Kobe, hanging out with D___. I think he's rapidly becoming my sensei, in a Karate Kid kinda way. He looked a little surprised to see me - I think he forgot I was coming that day - and confessed to not having much work for me to do and then confessed to being depressed, of having taken too many projects on. To me, it seemed that his depression was more than that - the depression of a silver haired man with rheumy eyes and wide knowledge with more projects than time left. I did a bit of work updating a style guide (they listed Australian English alongside UK English and American English - we've made it. I tracked down the Macquarie Dictionary foreword, which proudly claims the same title of our own special brand of English, which "fifty years ago was just seen as an unfortunate deviation from English", I think it runs). Most of the time, we just talked. He is one of the most learned people I've ever met. I still don't know his history and I don't dare ask. His history here is an open book; his history in England and Australia is largely a mystery. I keep finding out tantalising tidbits - amazingly, he worked on the Ord River irrigation scheme in northern Western Australia - but nothing solid, nothing to explain this massive store of knowledge. Today, he told me about the flight of the Ugandan Asians. (British people always call Indians and Pakistanis 'Asian' - I think for them, Asia stops at Afghanistan. Weird. We, on the other hand, have no fear of former British colonies and instead lump the disparate peoples of Southeast Asia and Northern Asia into one scary 'Asia'). The Ugandan 'Asians' (Indians and Pakistanis) fled Idi Amin's purges - they were too successful as business people - and many settled in England, where they prospered again. Then we talked about Korean history (it was a colony of Japan from 1910-45; they were used as labor in Japan and treated badly; resentment lingers, even though Korean pop culture is very popular here) and Taiwanese history (also a colony, although treated much better). From there, we talked multiculturalism and the phenomenon of class lift, where a new migration wave often lifts the previous class system up a notch, as the newcomers occupy the worst position, with exceptions such as black Americans, who were bypassed by every single newcomer group and left at the bottom. He tells me he runs a WWOOF farm at his house in the hills; that he runs a charity in Bangladesh and is starting a butterfly park in Hong Kong, and still, he has such humility. He tells me of the Japanese attitude to nature, characterised by a desire to conquer it, manage it, order it. Apparently, only one or two rivers in Japan do not have concrete beds. There is little 'nature' as we understand it here - 'national parks' are often indistinguishable from the usual rural mix of farming villages and forest. I wonder if perhaps this Industrial Revolution-era desire to progress by defeating the power of nature is made more complex by the predictable unpredictability of quakes and typhoons, so the Japanese seek to control heavily what they can in light of that which they cannot.


Rice production here is heavily subsidised (unsurprisingly, it's one of the sticking points in a possible East Asian FTA) because it's so fundamental to the Japanese culture. This explains how there can be rice paddies in Osakan suburbs (I'm beginning to think sub-urban is a misnomer here; they are very much still urban). But Japan hasn't been able to support itself foodwise for a while now; its food comes from everywhere, although its fishing fleets still loot the seas. I was thinking about this, and it made me think that globalisation is like a trust game. If part of the nature of globalisation is the specialisation of production, so that a few countries specialise in bananas, then this requires the kind of trust that we individuals have in our society - that the farmers will farm, that the police will police, that the pharmacists will continue to pharm (sorry). It needs that casual trust that other people are doing work that you can draw on. Perhaps the glossy-eyed globalisation advocates are right - the opposite of isolation and self-sufficiency is interdependence, European Union style, so that war can be reduced and confined.


It hit me a little while ago - things are not foreign to me anymore. I can differentiate Japanese faces (I used to be hopeless at non-white faces) and now it is the whites who seem strange. My hostel is my home; Hirakata is my city, and I am largely comfortable with the idea of living here. I think I noticed it when I realised that I didn't need to look to see when my stop was; I knew. I don't need to notice the shops anymore because the wonder and terror has gone, replaced by comfort. This means, of course, that I need to go further afield to get my weekly hit of tourist wow.


Now that I have a job, I have a purpose here. The city has meaning now that I do.


It snowed yesterday and today, little flurries swirling in. I've never been snowed on in a city before - quite magical. Why is it that snow only descends in 'flurries'?


I'm trying to remember the names of the 30-odd horde of childlings. The old tactic of blurring half-remembered names into one doesn't work here - too many Hinas and Ninas, Kumikos and Tamikos.


Oh - one final burst of sickening devotion. Toddlers aren't mean to be able to understand causality, like animals (if you throw a ball of string into a room where a cat is, it will chase it without looking where it came from). On Friday, Moeko came up to me with a large lego block and a serious look on her face. I had a block as well, and hid it behind my back and said where is it Moeko? where? and her face grew puzzled and then I made it reappear and puzzled moved to delighted. I did the trick a few more times and then she wanted a go (this is where it gets sickeningly cute). So she looks at her block and then at me, toddles behind me, stuffs it up the back of my tshirt and then toddles round the front and shows me her empty hands. Where is it, she asks with her eyes, where? I have absolutely no idea. She toddles behind me, retrieves the block and comes back, rather pleased with herself. So. Damn. Cute.


Yesterday a woman fell asleep on the train and slowly collapsed on my shoulder. Coming to, she muzzily shook her head before lapsing back onto my shoulder twice more. I didn't shake her off but left her there, scared to move lest she wake, a butterfly alighting on my shoulder. A small, meaningless thing, but coupled with my joyful toddlers, it felt like the beginnings of openness.


Error fixing: I said Osaka was the second biggest Japanese city, but apparently that honour goes to Yokohama. Sounds like semantics though - Tokyo and Yokohama joined forces long ago in everything but name. Perhaps the time of the 'city' is passing, replaced by conglomerations, loose associations of highrises.


I just remembered that I haven't as yet extolled the virtues of the Japanese rail system, something as obligatory as hunting geishas and gaping at Shinjuku fashionistas. Let me rectify that, and pretend you haven't heard it before. So:

In Japan, you define where you live by what station and line you are closest to - everyone uses public transport, all the time. The roads are still full, but there is much bureacratic hoop-jumping required to get a licence or car, and the tolls are huge - to drive from Osaka to Tokyo means you spend about a hundred bucks on tolls, nearly as much as the Shinkansen.

The sheer varieties of express trains is gawk-worthy and enough to drive the sane into trainspotting. On my line, the privately owned Keihan Line, there exists a rare and highly sought-after beast, the K-Limited express. In peak hour, people queue up at the station in designated areas well in advance of its arrival. It goes about a hundred klicks (I've always wanted to use that word) and disdains most stations between Kyoto and Osaka except mine, thankfully. It overtakes its slower relatives with a gloating toot, and if you're unlucky enough to be in an inferior train when it goes past, the doors go wham!, rattled by the pressure of the gleaming K-limited. It's like the Shinkansen for urbanites. Next, there is the red limited express, my personal conveyance of choice. Then, the orange normal express, then the green sub express, then the blue semi express, and finally, the scorned and feared local train (stopping allll stations to Yodoyobashi). This system introduces an element of choice sadly lacking in Connex. In the mornings, I jump into the first train that comes along and stand poised at the door. Often a red express will steam in, promising speed in exchange for closer contact with strangers, and I dash across to the better train, casting smug backwards glances.

If you want my hot stock tip for today, invest in Keihan. The railway conglomerate has got it all worked out. Not only do they have an extensive private line stretching between Osaka and Kyoto, and probably others around the country, but they take advantage of the fact that the station is the central hub of any city-within-a-city (suburban tribalism is pretty high here - you can eat, sleep, party and shop damn close to where you live. Hirakata is lit up like a mini Tokyo at night). So the great Keihan minds decided to put ruddy great (overpriced) Keihan supermarkets where they polish the strawberries around their stations, in a wonderful demonstration of vertical integration. Everywhere you go on my line, you see Keihan tattooed in red, devilish neon on the side of buildings.

And Keihan is but one of many, many lines servicing Osaka. Osaka bills itself as being home to 2.5 million souls, but that is a big fat lie worthy of the Chinese Bureau of Statistics. I suspect that for the sake of appearing slimline, they cut the outer suburbs out of the counting. God, Melbourne is meant to be what, 4 million? Osaka is probably around the same size as we land-rich sprawlers, but it's built up every step of the way. Again, the definition of central Osaka is largely arbitary. The buildings are a titch larger, but that's about all. There are 20 storey apartment buildings scattered around where I live. For that matter, the demarcation between Osaka, Kyoto and Kobe is increasingly artificial, but I'll stop being pedantic. An Osaka train map looks like one of those webs that spiders create when they're given speed. (How do they do that, by the way? Hype a fly up on amphetamines?) Colours carve swathes through the white suburbs in long lifelines; closer in, the JR Loop circles the city (now there's an idea, Melbourne) and that's before the subways kick in. There is a very useful website which, if you tell it where you are coming from and going to, will give you a neat little diagram of what trains to catch at what time. There's no difference between public and private lines; they all run on time, and I find myself getting impatient if I have to wait more than thirty seconds for a train now. It's absolutely incredible, an amazing feat of engineering and efficiency. We could learn from this, although I think that our unshiftable addiction to cars is largely because of the luxury of space - we need a readily available form of private transport to be able to get around our dispersed cities.

This system makes it possible for a lot of people to get around at high speeds and reliability. To get to work, I have to brave the true Osaka rush hour, the time of the morning where men in green coats cram you into your fellow stranger's armpit with immaculate white gloves. The first day was terrifying. Subway stations are generally part of the same building as the normal train stations, but shifted 90 degrees. This means that you have to walk about five hundred metres between stations. There is a particular stretch in Umeda station that I have to tackle each morning that deserves description. Pillars run in long lines down the passageway; shops hang about hopefully at either side. But the main attraction is the people, a sea of people, more people than you think possible - people walking twice as fast as I usually walk, people darting deftly across streams, grandmothers steadily negotiating the traffic, lunatics who step out into into oncoming torrents, forcing them aside. Usually, in negotiating Japanese stations, I use democratic principles and follow the majority, which is usually right. This passageway has many shifting majorities, many flows. Some salarymen creep along the wall next to an opposing flow, hoping vainly for a break so they can break across to the ticket machine. The first day I encountered this place, my mind pared back to survival mode. Person on left going through - break now! - in new, faster moving stream - ticket machine spotted - dart left, avoid swinging briefcase, hide briefly in eddy behind a pillar, wait, wait, wait - go now! It was exhilarating. The next day, I had more confidence and started taking risks, boosting my personal speed up to the limit, overtaking on blind corners (sumi masen!), weaving through the outlying trickles at high speed, only occasionally half-stopping on someone elses heel. It's a real buzz, immersing yourself in this Darwinian stream. It's like a large-scale version of Frogger.


There are no poor people in Japan. At least, that's what you could conclude by assessing the train passengers. While transport is expensive, it's essential. But everyone dresses well - muted colours (even the teens only risk colour on the weekends), stylish, impeccable. The Japanese place a heavy emphasis on outward appearance (another manifestation of the idea that you keep your real self submerged until you are in private places; your house, amongst friends). Perhaps that goes some way to explaining it - the poor still dress well. There are no irritating bogans.

There is such strong resonance of the inward/outward division here. My newly acquired mentor, D___ was talking about this today. You wear house slippers in the house and outside shoes when you leave. They can even own inside dogs and outside dogs. You rarely invite people into your home. Similarly into your self. It takes a long while to make true friends here, I hear, but once you do, it is a lifetime commitment with significant responsibilities, beyond the nature of friendship in Western countries. What happens in the home is private, strongly so and hence the strength of family. A Japanese/American woman I interviewed for my Cub Story wrote that this division is even represented in their flag; a red sun, a circle of homogeneity and strength outlined and defined by the massive white other. The word for foreigner is gaijin; gai is outside and jin is person. The implication is that we outsiders will never become insiders, ever.


Girls here do their makeup on the train. Not just a quick touchup of lipstick or mirror check, but full eyelash crimping, mascara application. Today I watched as a girl deftly negotiated the train's swaying and lurching as she curled her eyelashes. A nice inversion of public and private. On the male side, it's absolutely fine for men to read porn on the train. Most of them read manga porn - wide-eyed girls accomodating implausible cocks, men with dark eyes and overwhelming desire, towering over the women. It's not all like that though. (I picked one up at a 7-11, thinking it was 'normal' manga. Not so). The artists toy with fantasies; inversions of power - a young man tied up by wilful laughing women, toyed with, forcibly fellated. Overall though, it's mostly the same old story - you know, innocent girl crosses the path of a strong male, male desire becomes overpowering, male ravages innocent girl, male achieves loud groaning satisfaction. The look on the girls faces suggests a wavering line between rape and consensual sex - pain, guilty pleasure, pain.

My new favourite entertainment is watching important businessmen flick through pages of manga porn without varying their outwards face - the same impassive face that approves loans, conducts interviews. I mean, is it arousing? Is that the idea? Do you cultivate an erection on the way to work and then let it dissipate at the morning meeting? This is puzzling. Oh - cocks aren't allowed to be drawn in detail, but only outlined with dots. The overall effect is kinda comical - it looks like a dirty join-the-dots. What could it be?


Friday, March 11, 2005


I have never felt this good about getting a job before, never. Farrago came close, but that was when I had the luxury of living at home. I suppose my parents' bank account is only a pleading phone call away, but I'd prefer to keep the illusion of independence going until it looks like reality.

As for the work, it's wonderful. I never expected my dubious company to have links to something like this. Time to wheel out the cliche of clouds and linings and silver.

This is what I do. I get up very, very early and catch four trains and then walk to a place where I hug Japanese toddlers for eight hours a day. Between hugs, I sing catchy songs, dance, wipe snotty noses, break up fights, rectify toy imbalances, read stories, build fantastic block towers, and draw - all in English. We can't speak Japanese to them, but I was well equipped for that one. They are between one and two years old.

I have changed one nappy so far (it was fine) but I've yet to have dealings with poo. I'm already on good terms with snot. Toddlers really do dribble snot all day long. If I were a science nerd, I'd inform you that it's because of their hyped up immune system, but luckily I'm not.

Things I've learnt:
- An unusual smell is always suspicious
- Generally, crying doesn't require anywhere near as much panic as you think
(Except if encounters with a wall/door/clumsily wielded block are the cause)
- Toddlers have little to no sense of causality. This means instant forgiveness.
- Anger does nothing. What is needed is a magician's sense of redirection
- Most problems in life can be solved with a hug.

I realised that I was in love with my job two hours into the first day, when I was grappling with squirming handfuls of child while singing D-O-R-O-T-H-Y the DINOSAUR at the top of my lungs. This is not what I expected to be doing here. But it's better than I imagined. I get paid to be a child, to live in a child's world of colour and self and curiosity and playfulness and imagination. Fuck journalism. This is the shit.

The best thing is, the kids like me. I've always been good with kids because I'm not far removed from one myself and they can sense a like mind. My small cousins mercilessly pummel me whenever they're in Melbourne or I'm in Perth; it's good grounding for this.

It's almost sickeningly cute. Today, my second day, I watched Moeko trudge along atop two soft bricks, Rastafarian-style beanie perched atop her head, wearing a grin larger than her face. Takumi gives me toys in exchange for a smile. Sakuri cries the entire day, pining for her mother. And as for Hina - well. Apparently, just before I came, there was a red-headed Australian named John who spoke a little like me, a little bit too proper to be a true Aussie. Hina was enormously attached to him, and since I look and sound kinda like him, I am the new John. She calls me John and won't let go of my leg; she throws tantrums when I pay attention to another child, she isn't happy unless she's in my lap. All this evokes wondrous fatherlike feelings in me, which is interesting, since her father is nowhere to be seen and her young funky single mother had a thing for John in the hope he'd settle down and raise Hina with her. It seems I am a Father Figure, forty years too young. There's nothing I can do to stop her attaching to me, it seems. Although I'm getting used to her crying fits and tantrums when I have to - shockhorror - pay attention to Another Child. She knocks over their blocks if I even look at them, kicks her rivals, brings me their dolly's head on a platter if I so desire. I am hers, it seems.

It's kinda disturbing, but I can feel my fatherhood genes whirring in preparation. Japanese kids have to be the cutest in the entire world, all large eyes and toddler pudge and snub noses. Don't worry - I'll breed so you don't have to.

Forgive me if my posts take on an irritating new-father character, and forgive me if I eventually put up pics of my favourites. You don't have to look at them. But dear lord, when I leave Japan, at least three of them are coming with me. Either that, or I'll stay here and wildly father children.


The staff also deserve mention. A couple of Orstrayans, a bloke and two chicks, one of whom is Head Teacher, a former hospitality worker who found her calling. Several Filipinos with gigantic toothy smiles. A Columbian-Italian guitarist. A Nigerian geneticist.

I've been catching the train with O__, the Nigerian. People stare openly - white and black in a country of yellow. He's fascinating - a university lecturer in Nigeria, he succumbed to the brain drain, fleeing corruption and his first marriage to England, where he married a Brit and worked as a teacher of autistic kids. After his second marriage, which 'nearly killed him' and certainly destroyed his PhD in progress, he met a Japanese woman in Britain. They talked twice a day on the phone, her English progressing from non-existent to excellent. Now he's here, bearing up under open dislike from his in-laws (nothing personal, they said, but you're black. Fine for a boyfriend, not fine for marriage or kids) and working with me. It's bizarre. We sit in the train and he tells me about the tribal structure of Nigeria (each tribe is a political party, and the three big tribes make deals with the little - not so far from our 'modern' democracy), his plans to quit smoking, his work studing the genetics of a Nigerian orchid. We carefully plan our negotiations of Umeda station together. He goes out dancing at night to RnB. He tells me that when the freed slaves in the Carribean and Americas who wanted to return to their ancestral homeland arrived in modern day Freetown, Sierra Leone, they couldn't speak the tribal languages and the tribes could't speak English. Gradually, a pidgin English evolved and flourished, spreading all over West Africa, serving as a common language for a region wracked in tribalism and parochialism. He tells me a couple of lines, like 'Me a gogo work morrow'.

It's amazing how much these last two days have cheered me up. Constant physical contact with cute creatures. Interesting people. Money. Could it get better?

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

This is too good.

Nice website, almost entirely in Proper English except for one crucial letter.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Kobe; drinking on the job; cub reporter Doug

Joy! I have a job. Expectations are finally parallel with reality. Clearly, the gold rush days of teaching English in Japan are over and now it's a bit more like hard slog. Still, it's good money for work that's really the ultimate in unskilled labour. But now I am stuck with Ponyboy. Happily, however, I have been shuffled out of his jurisdiction and into that of his manager, an affable man with a jolly belly and a penchant for maps. Seriously. Every time I see him, he shows me this program that can scale Osaka from way out in space right down to street level, forgetting that he showed me last time. With a single click, it becomes 3D (he always looks at me at this point to see my reaction) and we whiz through the streets. It's bizarre. But he is a vast improvement on Ponyboy.

I start on Thursday, but not as an employee. I'm a business. I am an Independent Contractor, which gives me a delightful 10% tax rate but more legal nastiness if I royally ass it up, I think. I start at a kids school, but for very little kids. Ass and snot wiping are the order of the day, with occasional bursts of basic English. Still, it is Hard Cash, a commodity in short supply around here. I'm getting embarassed about being the pity case in the hostel and having beeping noises proclaim that I'm too poor to buy an adult train ticket. After a hedonistic weekend, I'm back to being poor and knowing it.

In about two weeks, I'll get to work on a couple of kids camps around Osaka, which should be both entertaining and exhausting. I was watching three teachers herd a class onto the train this morning and they used tactics very similar to those employed by jackaroos on cattle. Create the illusion of a containing area; use your forces to good effect; be everywhere at once. There will be two hundred kids on these camps and I hope a suitable number of herders.


I spent yesterday in Kobe, the site of a massive earthquake a decade ago. The Japanese philosophy to earthquakes is interesting - its only in the 20th century that they even thought it desirable to build earthquake proof buildings. Before that, a tremor would roll through, the cities would fall, the Japanese would shrug and build them again. I don't think any of the shrines here are 'authentic' in a historic sense - they've been burnt down or shaken to bits many times, if they're old, but they rebuild them on the same site.

To get to Kobe, I navigated through four trains, five stations and a wall of Japanese kanji with nary a terrified moment. God, I'm getting good. Or so I thought until I had to find an actual address. The Japanese system of addresses is like much of their culture: opaque, confusing and designed to be difficult for outsiders. They could make it easier. It would make it easier for them and probably reduce postman suicides. But I think they must be proud of the fact that it requires a long, long time to find a particular place.

For example, I tried to find an international school in Kobe. Here are the instructions:

From JR Suma Station:
Exit station from Street side stairs (not beach side). Turn left once you come down from stairs and go to the intersection. Cross intersection at lights. Turn right (go past London Bakery).

Continue past Marui Pan Bakery. You will see a small street marked by a barber shop pole. Turn left up this street. Walk under the tunnel. M___ is on the right.

Keep going past the first M___ building until you reach a driveway between both buildings. Walk up the drive; the reception area is in the building on the left. Walk up the steps by the statue and enter the building.

The reason such specific instructions are required is because very few streets have names (they sometimes name major intersections, but not always). Houses and buildings are numbered in a seemingly illogical fashion. 1-1-3 doesn't necessarily give way to 1-1-4, but sometimes 1-1-10 or even 1-13. In short, it's terribly confusing. So instructions ditch the whole street name and number thing and refer to local landmarks. Turn left at Macdonalds. Right at ECC. This means constant updating. Turn left where Maccas (or Maccado, here) used to be.

Anyway, I made it there, courtesy of their detailed instructions. I was running late but had to cool it in the waiting room. No doubt you're going mad with frustration at my clever, meandering storytelling method. But why were you there Doug, I hear you moan. If you're still reading at all. Right. To cut to the chase, I was there as a cub reporter. The story was hot. Sizzling, even. People wanted the inside story on what made second generation expats tick. Were they happy? Did they even exist? If so, were they Japanese? Expat? WHAT? Anyhow, that was my cub assignment, one that I visibly perked to be given, and goddamn, I was going to nail that story, chief. So! I interviewed damn well everyone I could; students, teachers, the headmaster, the cleaner. What did they know about second gen expats? Was there anything they couldn't say in public?


It was actually good clean fun - the students were hip cats, just like you see in Japanese movies. As an international school, it was also a fair ripoff of an American school, or at least the movie version - the melting pot population (hunting students for my story, the headmaster collared one, asking, Jim, are you mixed?) - the mass-produced slop in the food hall, the hierarchies of cool. The students I interviewed were fascinating -unsure, poised between two cultures; mostly Japanese, but not entirely. The famed resentment of outsiders even extended to one of my interviewees, a fourth generation Korean living in Japan. She still had to have a Korean passport and take out 'Alien' insurance. Nasty. One expat I met thought it's based on a feeling that all alienness is temporary and will pass, will depart. The Japanese will endure.


Later, I went for an interview at the publication I'm cubbing for. I got enormously lost due to an inadequate map but got there only a little late. The office was on the second floor of a second-hand bookshop, which is a good start. There were steep stairs, which was better. And then! A real Production Environment. It's sad to say, but it felt kinda homely - scraps of paper everwhere, gleaming macs, story ideas, past editions, a tiny office and my host, the charming D__ who I first met in Kyoto. The interview went in typical Japanese style, which is to say unusually. Conversation darted from the history of the mag, to refugees in Japan (they don't take any if they can help it), to Paul Keating, to John Pilger, to the Irish rebellions - it was a little disorienting. D has a fine mind, a broad mind, but still unassuming, still free of ego. It was a thrill to be along for the ride. Talking about ideology in journalism, I said something without thinking - ideology is just another form of prejudice - and then blinked. I'd said something mildly intelligent. D looked a little surprised too. The interview ended, I edited an article and laid in a page (something certain, something from home), and he reappeared with a beer which we downed and left, walking towards a little place he knew. I'd never have gone in there on my own - middleaged Japanese men scattered around the tables, smoking and drinking, a local place. Along the walls were fridges, bottleshop style, and people would reach in and take one - legally speaking, people can only stand up and drink, but everyone sits down anyway. D and I sat near three men who started joking (in English, for our benefit) that one of them was a North Korean spy. D and I talked and drank for a while; a game of Japanese chess started up nearby, and a large cup of shochu appeared next to my hand. One of the Japanese men beamed at me. I took a tentative sip of their local spirit. Strong but smooth. I smiled, appreciative. He smiled back and gestured that I should drink it. I downed it, we left and I was embarassingly drunk on the train home. Finally, I've met someone who wants to put the booze back in journalism.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Beer and skittles

Right, I've given up worrying about financial responsibility. No more will I live on tofu and cabbage - caution has been thrown to the winds and I'm living on the edge. Woh. Also, we've complained so much about being poor that kind hostelmates are bringing home food parcels for us (seriously) and claiming that oh, they must have bought too much, or it will go off, or they don't want it. It's very kind of them and Row and I generally resist for thirty seconds before caving in and pawing through it greedily. So, to live out this new craaazzy philosophy, we went out for the First Time in Japan. It was suitably weird. We tagged along with kind hostelmates (using the rapid bonding of desperation), leaving the hostel at midnight for an unspecified reason. A, one of the departing hostelmates (there seems to be a mass exodus) is an artist, and he spent two years part time making four delightful rubber cakes, featuring grotesque sirens tearing gingerbreadmen apart with their tentacles, bare breasted women savaging fake Oreos and other bizarre things. Anyway, rather than exhibit them (they were really quite good), he had decided to destroy them after taking pictures of them in a variety of Hirakata's (our 'burb) public toilets. So, we had to tote large rubber cakes through the streets, which is always a good start for a night. The night officially began at N and G's house, two recently ex-hostelmates who have taken pity on us several times, and here we were plied with free drinks and conversation. Next, we were evacuated (fear of new neighbours) to the public toilets, where photos were taken of the cakes before their ritual destruction. I couldn't believe he was so casual about it. Two years of creation and thirty seconds of destruction? But he did it easily, carelessly, tearing them apart and stuffing them next to a bin. Puzzling. The night was brutally cold so we took refuge in an all-nite store (they've taken off here recently and people spend hours late at night, browsing magazines and even flirting) and we were able to buy remarkably cheap beer in single cans. Hirakata was going off, kind of. A blue van loitered (vans don't normallyloiter but this one did) nearby. It had been modified beyond recognition - an elongated tow-bar coupled with what looked like little wings dangling behind it. Again, puzzling. Eventually, we made it to the bar with the sole remaining cake (Row had grown attached to it and successfully pleaded for its life. It's now gloomily sitting in our room). The bar was called 'egg', and took its name rather literally; the roof consisted of egg cartons and there were little cubicles scattered around, trying hard to look like eggs. There were hipsters and green haired men and a barman with a single remaining tooth. Two of my hostelmates revealed that they'd sometimes worked as volunteer barmen (I shit you not) at egg, and one promptly volunteered his services. He was a little clumsy/drunk, and knocked things over, but the beauty of the volunteer barman system is that drinks somehow cost much less. Later, a bottle of complimentary champagne was pressed on us by the dentally-challenged barman, who had lost his pants and tshirt somewhere along the line. For the next hour, he served customers in his underwear, beaming his gap toothed smile. An exhibitionist, apparently. Then a hipster tried unsuccessfully to beg for a random girl's number, holding his phone out in a heartfelt plea; she left him hanging, with much mock-pain and flirtation. Again, a puzzling night. It seems the Japanese culture is one of contrasts - rigid external appearances versus an internal wildness. It would certainly explain their taste in television.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Job; no job

There is a store in Tokyo which only sells things that people have accidentally left on the train. I must go.

Now, it seems I don't have a job again. I confessed that I'll only be here six months and bang! the job evaporated. Goddammit. I need money badly. The children travel ticket scam won't work on rent or food, sadly. We've already been donated one bag of food by a kind hearted hostelmate (we must have been looking particularly motheaten and scungy that day). We're pioneering a new diet for the West - the Poverty Diet. Eat less and walk more because of your financial difficulties. I've already lost two kilos, and there's no end in sight.

The evaporation of my dream job means that (sigh) I will be forced to sell my soul to Ponyboy and his kin. He really is the employer of last resort.


The kanji for 'house' is a combination of the kanji for 'roof' and 'woman'. How remarkable.


Kyoto again today, for our dose of Ancient Culture. Two temples and I'm done, thank you. Why do tourists always destroy what they come to see? It's a textbook example of a principle of quantum physics - the observer changing that which is observed. In tourist physics, the forces of greed and tradition clash, producing ancient sites which ferry the maximum number of gawkers through per day. The zen garden at Ryoanji Temple is world famous. I would have almost rather seen it on television, freed from the noise of tourists and bags and cameras and chatter. It was starkly beautiful; 15 rocks, raked white gravel, a mudstone wall. The purposeful arrangement seems random, begs time and thought for understanding. But god, the hordes of cameramen and women. Who takes pictures of a zen garden? (I can freely indulge in sanctimony since we left ours at home accidentally.). What is the purpose of recording everything, aping the storytellers, filmmakers, writers - by freezing a moment at a supposedly special place, putting a frame around it, cutting back the totality of the experience down to one sense - sight - and the memory of the person who went? God, tourists make me angry. Enjoy it and live it in your memory later - if it doesn't live, it wasn't special. Skilled photographers have already taken better photos of these places, so if you want photos, use theirs. Take pictures of people, friends, family, yes, because they are important - amateur photos of shrines never, ever do it justice. Ah, enough ranting. As soon as I get a digital camera, I'll be boring you with what I think are 'special' everyday moments here, too.

OK, so. One interesting thing about the Zen temple was that Zen is meant to emphasise the impermanence of life by juxaposing it with the permanent (I think). But at the same time, the impermanent life - the trees in the temple - were supported everywhere with stakes and poles so that their limbs would not fall off. Perhaps the contradiction is purposeful. Perhaps there is no contradiction. Ah, I don't understand Zen.

Next, Row and I went to Kinkaju-ji, the famed Golden Temple, one of Japan's premier sights. Again, it was overtouristed and as a result, completely underwhelming. Yes, it was pretty; the two top levels covered in real gold leaf, but the effect was kinda tacky - imitation gold leaf on casino's has done a lot of damage. The lake was suitably mystical and filled with koi carp, the pines were adequately gnarled, the moss sufficiently sleek and moist, but the sheer number of humans made the experience nearly worthless. There's a picture of the temple above this computer and frankly, I prefer the professional photograph to seeing it in person. It's cheaper and more beautiful. The professional photographer is the privileged observer; during his or her time there, there are no tourists permitted and there is time to frame the shot, choose the light. The photograph does not emit noise or stench. Still, one positive was that the majority of tourists were Japanese, so it wasn't a Western invasion. I think around a third of Japan's population visits Kyoto, their traditional centre, every year.

Later, we wandered around Kyoto, which was much more interesting than bland tourist fare. Scraps:

Two geisha in a taxi, fully made up: white facepaint, immaculate kimonos, traditional satchels, ordered swirls of hair. One chatted on her mobile phone.

The taxis here have little symbols on their roofs - a heart that lights up if it's vacant, or a crescent moon.

Two Muslim Japanese girls in headscarves.

Many doors here are semi automatic - you touch them and they open. It makes much more sense than fully automated stupid doors that open whenever the leaves blow past the sensor.

A Shinto wedding in a temple; the bride walking slowly across the grounds, elegant. Nearby, stallholders are packing up - the age-old temple hosts a weekly market, the impiousness of commerce sitting comfortably next to comtemplation. There is no contradiction. Jesus would have had a fit (nerdy lapsed Christian joke).

A ukiyoe gallery; exquisite Japanese ink prints, luminous, intense. Row and I sort through them, letting out little ahs! and ohs! as we find new scenes; cherry blossom in spring, labourers in fields, geisha, samurai. The entrance to the gallery has, in English, this inscription: I open this gallery when I wake up and I close it when I want to go to sleep.

A magician has just finished performing as we arrive and is requesting kind donations from watchers. People dutifully deposit yen in his hat. A drunk Malaysian weaves through the crowd, brandishing a banknote; he rubs it against the magician's cheek. The crowd is frozen. The magician tries to extricate himself. The Malaysian loiters, does little tapdances and performances

Near the Shinto wedding, a maiko is walking slowly down the street. She's a trainee geisha, triptrapping on large cork clogs, her face masked in white paint. We tail her at a distance.

A taxi driver whips out a featherduster, of all things, and gently polishes his entire car. He then sheathes the featherduster carefully and spends an inordinate amount of time rubbing at spots with a wet finger.


Row's started work already while I'm still scrounging for a job, which is good for him and bad for my self esteem. It sounds excitingly terrifying - he's teaching kids ranging from 1 - 13. How you teach a one year old English is beyond me. Apparently, it consists of songs and paper and teaching the mothers how to teach their children. Leaning English is a national obsession - a new phase of a national preoccupation with Getting Ahead and Staying Competitive in a Global Economy whose language happens to be English, and not Japanese (god, being the number 2 economy must suck). Row says he has brats who ask insouciantly what fuck means, hyperactive kids who blaze around the classroom, timid creatures who won't look him in the eye, and every kind of kid between. Me, I'm looking forward to work, if I ever get any. Ooh, ouch.

Friday, March 04, 2005


The second day of training by Ponyboy had been slightly more professional, under the watchful eye of his superior. During a grammar exercise, his superior came over and ousted him quietly. I perked up and tried to present a bit of grammar in simple terms. Unfortunately, I got the use of it dead wrong, which was mortifying and I realised I have little to no idea as to how to explain the use of grammar - it's just convention and habit. I don't ever remember being taught. Ponyboy's superior smiled at me and told us that there was a backlash against teaching English grammar in the West, that teachers thought grammar is something you pick up by use, which is true. It seems I'm going to be learning English here too.

Afterwards, I was feeling down, the flattest and shittest I've been so far. I had to wait in a cafe for a couple of hours between interviews and I felt the insulation of alienness close in around me - people choosing to sit away from me, no-one meeting my eye. I sat and thought over a tiny cup of coffee and wondering if this shitty feeling was in fact the sneaking suspicion that I was making a large mistake in even being here. Why not just take off and go travelling, get drunk cheaply, make a fool of myself in other people's countries - why try to construct a new life somewhere and then destroy it?

I wandered from the cafe towards the station where I was to meet Rowan, walking underground - Osaka has the largest underground mall in Japan. Between two stations lived homeless men, between pillars, against walls, near the heating; the stream of people providing the security of anonymity. I look at them. Even though they're poor as shit (after the crash of 1990?), even though they have nothing, still they try and make private spaces, homes. One man has set up walls of cardboard. A sleeping bag squirms anxiously. Five minutes later, I came back to open air and crossed the river. There are constructions of blue waterproof canvas all along the river, but I'd never paid them much attention. All of them were the houses of the homeless. I suppose 'homeless' is no longer the right word. The slum dwellers, perhaps. In typical Japanese fashion, even their homeless are organised - concentated on a large island in the middle of the river, around a park with shining amenities block. The slum men can build around the edges of the park, but not in the middle and everyone adheres to this strictly. Smug cats litter the area; men crush cans methodically underfoot. Beneath the freeway, the houses are concentrated, out of the rain, and a game of what looks like mah-jong is underway, cigarettes with long ash, energetic gesticulation. It's striking, the difference between these men and those who live on Melbourne's streets. In Melbourne, the homeless are individuals - defeated, wandering the city in circles, alone, the purposeless waiting to die. Here (perhaps because of the numbers) they join together, industrious build together. The houses are scavenged; canvas, cardboard, rope and cheap wood. A Buddha sits casually on a table; bikes are scattered around. Semi-homeless? Those who can't afford the crushing rent? One man has built his house under the walking ramp; another has adapted a cupboard, put in plastic windows, made it a hutch for sleeping. For some reason, it made me feel better, to see this, people like me who have little connection with society but who work and make regardless, because it's what they do.

I met up with Row and we went to sign up for TV extra work. We got there fine, but they'd moved without telling us, so we explored Osaka. I was beginning to think this city consisted of prefab concrete offices and apartments without a scrap of colour and had almost given up, but Row suggested we check out Shinsaibashi. Wow. Finally: Tokyo-style towering ads; massive neon, three storey pop art. Further on, we hit America-mura (American village) which is pretty much the equivalent of a 'Chinatown' - a geographic area devoted to American culture (well, New York, really). Every shop disseminates American music; every shop apes American style and fashion. And the people! There's a famous concrete park where you go to be seen, but we found people with more attitude walking the streets. As blatant examples of Westianity, I felt really quite underdressed. If you fantasise about being Western, what happens when you see Westerners dressed for comfort? There were even some token black dudes, tailed by some wannabe-black Japanese rapheads. We found our way to a crowd - some kind of radio promotion - and we waited for a while as it started to rain, and I had my ass pinched, at last. It wasn't particularly erotic, however - more terrifying - and caught me totally by surprise. The perpetrator moved off after she saw my horrified reaction. Still, in retrospect, hot stuff.

That night was the night we were meant to be on national TV (fame and movie offers to follow) and a nervous tension built up towards 8 o'clock. Hostelmates appeared silently, trickling into the TV room. The show began, a bizarre quiz/comedy show that featured Japanese men being shot out of cannons in their underwear, the shortest rail tunnel and smallest park in Osaka (11 metres and 7 X 1.3 metres respectively), a sequence where the audience and panel had to guess the cost of antiques - and finally, the feature on our hostel. The hostess of the show walked in the front door - we could see our shadows and giggled nervously - and then an ad break, an anticlimax. Then, finally, the camera panned across the room before the hostess asked questions. 30 seconds later, it was over, with no sight of Row or I. Bastards. They'd used earlier footage, shot in February before we came. So the goal of being on a Japanese quiz show is still unfulfilled.


Today, I had my last training day with Ponyboy. He was less horrific today, and I've come to understand him more as a teen trapped in a 35 year old man's body. However, he still ushered me over secretly to his computer and shows me a picture of his ex-girlfriend, who happened to go to my old uni (shit, I've graduated, I think). Did you know her, he asks. You sure? God, she broke my heart. Bitch. Later, he covertly tells we trainees a story about privately tutoring a teenage boy who didn't like him and was swapped to teach his mother as a result. He raises his eyebrows a few times suggestively and then confesses to sleeping with the teen's mother. "But man, after we slept together, she tells me she loves me. What's with that? Luckily, her husband found my coat in the car and she called it off". One of my fellow trainees nods appreciatively. "Man, take the free gifts they offer, but never fall in love," he says. This trainee is a puzzle - another thirty plus year old, an All American Boy - tall, clean cut, mid-Western - who defected to Japan, citing 'political correctness' for as a reason for leaving. This from a strict vegetarian (almost impossible in Japan). He's intriguing for his contradictions - he presented the best practice lesson of all of us, getting us to do fun exercises, acting things out, full of energy - but this is also the man who's seemingly here for the exotic sex, for the thrill of the murky Yakuza owned club scene (he works in security for big Yakuza nightclubs), who turns the same energy he uses in the lessons to describing a bar fight in gruesome, bloody detail with eyes backlit and fists reenacting of their own accord, all in front of his employer-to-be. Bored, he flips through some papers on Ponyboy's desk, homing in on people's work histories. Ponyboy raises an eyebrow at this, but does nothing. Bizarre. Actually, 'puzzling' is my new favourite all-purpose word to describe anything here. So, this man is puzzling. Ponyboy is deeply puzzling. Oh - and they both pronounce 'nice' by seperating it into its constituent elements; N-ii-ce, they say, slanting the meaning towards an appreciative innuendo. So, now I've been 'trained'. I don't feel particularly ready, but hey. The practice lesson was fun - apparently, the more 'genki' (a word meaning friendly, fun and exciting rolled into one, I think) you are, the more the kids love it. This means I have a licence to: run around the classroom; make exaggerated gestures of explanation, use games a lot, ask stupid questions, embarass kids. It actually sounds like a lot of fun. Someone once said I'd be a good teacher. We'll see about that. Maybe I'll be one of the ones who snaps, one of those who loses out in the battle of wills with the kids. It usually happens to high school science or maths teachers though. Or maybe I'll be attacked by a depressed high schooler (they're copying America here too, but with knives more than guns, thankfully). Sorry. That was a depressing flight of fancy.


Rowan figured out how to get cheap train tickets, which is a lifesaver. I've been spending twenty dollars a day just to get into town. All you have to do is press the child button and the price halves. But the cunning train operators counted on people doing that, and when you go through the gates, they emit a high pitched beeping sound and flash orange. The first time it happened, I nearly shat myself. Row hadn't warned me about it at all, and I hurried away from the scene of the crime. Seriously, it's embarassing. But the best thing about the culture of impassivity is that no-one appears to notice. They all do, of course, but they're too polite to say anything. Thank god. On the positive side, my comings and goings will now always be heralded by beeps and lights. In case people couldn't spot a gangly red head on their own.


Oh! I have a job, for real! It was the easiest job I've ever got. I was sitting at home, sprawled on the couch, watching Godfather III when one of the hostel managers walked in and offered me the job of teaching English at the hostel (it doubles as a small school) and I unsprawled and became professional and nodded a lot. Sweet. However, I'm under no illusion that it was my skills or genkiness - I'm pretty much the employee of last resort. They couldn't find a female teacher and they were desperate. Convieniently, I am also desperate. So, the shortest commute in history begins in two weeks - all of five metres.