Thursday, January 26, 2006

Japanese TV - an exercise in the bizarre

Settling down on the sofa last night with my fiance, we turned on the TV to while away an hour or so before bath and bed. She went to make a cup of coffee so it was left to me to flick through the channels. I must have gone past about five food programs before I was confronted by the scene below...

A big man in a pink dress playing the part of a teacher... a little strange perhaps, but Japan being Japan I wasn't so surprised... apparently this character is called Gorie, and is a humorous jibe at Yamumba girls in Japan...

But hang on! What the hell's this?... a group of school kids, ok, a group of school kids in Butlins jackets, ok, but a man with a steel head posing as a school boy? Strange... when I asked my fiance about this guy, she told me that he was in character. When I asked her for the significance of the steel head she just shrugged. But that wasn't the end of it...

Of course! No TV would be the same without the slightly-saucy-vixen-wearing-cat-mask-and-fishnet-stockings... I couldn't help wondering how the interplay between the three characters would play out, but unfortunately we were immediately whisked from the classroom out onto the street...

The saucy masked teacher left behind, the duo are joined by an office lady in typically pointy shoes, before they are accosted by three equally strange chaps - a dreadlocked hippy wearing a bra, an eyeless orange and white mannequin and an unkempt and grinning professor type. As befits the special occasion of such a union of characters, they decide on a gripping and awe-inspiring course of action...

Visiting an office of the Environment Agency! Despite the fact that they were face to face with a big man in a pink dress, a cheeky professor, a Dr Who mannequin, a cross-dressing hippy, an office lady and a sound man with a huge boom, the workers carried on regardless and pretended they weren't there. I ask you, what would you do if you were the cheeky professor, prancing through an office block but being snubbed by the shirts and ties?...

Grab the nearest guy and try to dog hump him of course! With the flustered salaryman desperately trying to remain dignified and calm as the academic simulates canine sex with him, the other members of the gang giggle and beat the pair of them with their fists and a gold ladle...

At this point the bath was ready so I didn't get to see the end. Who knows what happened? Presumably there was a reason for going to the environment office.. sadly, I'll probably never know. According to my fiance this program is known as Sui-ju ("Wednesday Ten"), named due to the day and time it's on. If this week was anything to go by, it might well become compulsive viewing for me...

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Dave McGeever - A retrospective

Finding myself (at least until the end of March) in a fusty, dour high school setting with for the most part equally fusty and dour teachers, I often cast my mind back to my own high school days and think about some of the true characters that were there. There was the crazy geography teacher that really was a few sandwiches short of a picnic (famous moment: jumping off a table and cracking her head on a giant overhead globe), there was the batty CDT teacher that left at the end of my first year (famous moment: cracking a Hitler joke in his final assembly that horrified and delighted in equal measure), there was the games mistress that was incapable of looking at you, speaking without shouting and keeping her saliva to herself (famous moment: when she appeared to give the chair next to me and chum Helm a dressing down after we pinned the classroom clock to the ceiling above the teacher's desk) and the art teacher that only wore shades of brown, grey and green and had the bushiest beard you have ever seen (famous moment: when a girl was caught talking and made to stand up when he was giving an assembly on Surrealism, and it was suggested that he could give her a book on Dali to read as way of penitence, he leaned over and very smugly announced that he had "many, many volumes" on Salvador Dali).

Interesting as these teachers were, though, none were quite a patch on Dave McGeever. He was a shade over six feet but his curly black mane and beard made him seem even taller. He was a maths teacher, but his real position at the school was the head of lower school - that is, he would sort out all the little shits aged 14 and under when they stepped out of line.

The big guy in action was something to see, and it was common to hear kids being pushed against lockers as you sat through morning French. Bear in mind that this was in the early to mid 90s, when schools were starting to crack down hard on teachers being physical or overly zealous with students. Kids at our school knew that if you messed around, "Geever" would be after you, and if you were a repeat offender you'd get the locker.

Having spoken to a few high school teachers in recent years, I've found out that most believe that it's important to assert your authority early to keep things in line. McGeever did this in spades during my first week at the school. On the playground, one of the more mischievous kids in my class picked on another guy, and knocked him to the ground, his loose change spillilng everywhere. Unbeknownst to everyone, McGeever had seen it all, and with a roar of "DEAN!!" he charged forward and grabbed the startled first year by the ear. Still holding the ear, he uttered the unforgettable words "YOU HEARD OF DISS HIGH SCHOOL? WELL, YOU'RE GOING THERE!" and fast-marched him to the headmaster (Diss high school was the other high school in the area).

After that, the standard was set. You mess around, you get hassle from a giant (at least then) with red boots and a beard. Kids may have pushed the envelope occasionally but it was his envelope and no one elses.

But anyway, I digress... the real reason I brought up the subject of the big guy was that I was browsing the internet and came upon my highschool. Lo and behold they have past group photos, and a quick glance through was enough to spur me into action, and examine the changing face (and clothes) of Dave McGeever. For aside from his disciplinary tendancies, he was equally revered for his (often questionable) sense of fashion, so below is a composite of the various photos that he was in, and some comments about each... ahh the memories...

1983 - This was well before my time at the school, and this seems to be well before Dave asserted his authority on things. In this photo he is stood at the back to the right, is wearing a fairly sedate tan suit and isn't looking at the camera. It looks like he has a horrendous mullet, but it's actually the shadow from the light.

1987 - A bit more confidence now, as the jacket has gone and he's found the camera lens. The thin tie is the first showing of his sense of contempory fashion, and his slightly downwards stance suggests discipline.

1988 - This is a treat. Big hair, huge beard, a pirate's grin and the biggest red shoes in the world. One of the Three Faces of Geever, this makes me think of him chatting away in maths, feet on the table, coffee in hand, knowing that his reputation as a hard man permits a bit of flamboyant fashion.

1989 - Essentially the same as the previous year but with a few important differences. The hair is shorter, the beard trimmed, the more scholarly stance and restrained grain all suggest another side to the big man, one not of exhuberance and kook but authority and hierarchy.

1990 - The second of the Three Faces of Geever, the swagger of 1988 is back but this time with more bite. The shirt and tie have been replaced by a greenpeace sweatshirt and the business trousers by skin tight white leggings. The previous badger stripe in the hair has gone, and this is Dave at his most unconformist. When I started high school, he would often flit between this, 1988-style and the upcoming third of the Three Faces of Geever, with frequent contemporary items like Global Hypercolor tshirts thrown in.

1991 - The third of the Three Faces of Geever. Dead centre at the chief position at the back of the group, Dave can afford to lean back and cast his shadow. Having already displayed a variety of alternative looks, he's safe in the knowledge that he can go back to his business suit and let his ties work their psychedelic magic.

1992 - As well as being a maths teacher and scourge of the ill-behaved, the big man's other responsibility was taking the occasional games lesson. Rather sedate when compared to other years, but there you go.

1993 - Memory seems to serve that Geever went through a crazy shirt period in 1993, when the most incredible and unlikely shirt and tie combinations combined in a daily bounty of indulgence. In the same year he led myself and a host others on a school trip to Germany, wearing painfully bright t-shirts and a pair of zebra striped skin-tight shell suit trousers. Unfortunately though, this proved to be the last hurrah for the big man, as in subsequent years the hair got shorter, the smile smaller and the shirts more sedate.

1995 - No photo for the previous year, so the nosedive to 1995 seems ever steeper. The big guy seems much thinner, has lost his penchant for hair dye and seems a bit distant somehow. The slightly blase stance suggests a revival of zing could be coming, but unfortunately it's a false dawn.

1996 to 2003 - I left highschool in 96, and though the big guy was still a presence he wasn't anywhere near he was at the start of the decade. These 4 photos all show a depressingly conformist side to Dave - he wore a suit before but there was always a kicker - red boots, crazy tie, wild hair, etc. A yellow shirt in 2003 would have been a bit quirky back in the day, but nowadays the Science teachers wear them.

I'm not sure whether he's still at the school, but if he is I have a suspicion that he may be a member of the establishment and lacking all the things that made him the most memorable teacher of my schooldays. As I look around me at the teachers here in Japan, I see uniform jackets and ties, boring hair and sandals. Oh for the big man and his red boots, feet on the desk, the nicknames he gave students and the unpredictable fashion...

A couple of things on the way to work...

The morning bus from the train station to the high school is pretty uneventful. The same people are there every morning, in the same seats with the same coats, the same hats...

With this kind of groundhog day-esqueness, I am rather prone to looking out of the window and trying to find anything even remotely interesting. Well, whether or not they are interesting is up for debate, but I think the following two photos deserve a comment.

First of all this:

Could there ever be a more forced and unnatural smile than this? She also appears on the corresponding TV advert, in which a gold microphone is thrown at her and she has to adopt the same smile and sing a stupid song. Rather unfortunate to have this as your 15 minutes of fame...

And second, this:

Is it just me being English and a little Sid Jamesian, or is the logo for this company.. well, I'll let you decide for yourself... let's just say the model wasn't Jewish...

Thursday, January 19, 2006

One of the classes I will miss teaching...

Despite being rather pleased at the thought of my upcoming departure from teaching at my high school, there are a few things that I am going to miss. For example, the nice coffee that my colleague brews, the frequent breaks in the schedule and the occasional chats on comfy chairs with interested and curious students. Another thing I will really miss is teaching the above class, 3S1, who were often a beam of light in otherwise torrid times. I taught them at 11am every Thursday, which is my best day by far, mainly due to the genkiness and good behavious of the kids above.

Teaching the S classes was a struggle (I taught S1 as well as S2, S3, S4 and S5). Some were OK but lazy (S3, S4), one was good but sleepy (S2) and one was awful beyond words (S5). 3S1 occasionally pushed the envelope a little far and the very things that made the students great sometimes made them horrid (the most confident and interested student half dangled out of the window for a laugh, a similarly engaged girl shouted "turn me on!" at me whenever she saw me, and the class would innocently shout things like "SHIT!" and "FUCK YOU", not knowing what they were doing). Still, all in all 3S1 made my week, and unlike their fellow classes actually listened to me and asked me questions.

From baseball captain Youhei, to volleyball setter Kouta, to aloof and very sultry Sakura, to snow-white-skin and an utter minx Miho to the class motivators Shinji ("look! I lean out of window!") and "turn me on!" Tomomi, they made my often painfully dire job bearable.

Thanks guys, I really mean that.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

A theory...

I am convinced that if you removed the following components from Japanese TV, there wouldn't be anything left:

- food
- a main character shouting with tears in their eyes
- old women in kimonos

Last night was a particularly mixed bag as far as the box goes. First there was an entertainment show with wacky host Takeshi Kitano (he of Battle Royale and Takeshi's Castle fame), which despite being quite funny in parts tends to be pretty shallow and inevitably devolved into a food tasting session (in which a single anpan bun and a square of tofu were revealed, costing 10,000 yen each - about 50 quid). After this, my fiance flicked over the channel to watch a little of an Edo period drama, which, as far as I could tell, was filmed in a car park somewhere in Tokyo on a tight budget whilst men and women shouted and cried whilst gripping eachother at arms length. Changing over again revealed the dreaded traditional music show, in which women ranging from 35-80 appear on stage in white kimonos and screech and wail an Enka tune. And they always cry at the end (and frankly who could blame them - I have trouble deciding the reason. Is it shame at having murdered the idea of musical entertainment on national TV or a side effect of griking like a dying cat?)

My Japanese friends scoff when I propose my theory, but I have a sneaking suspicion I'm right...

How about this for a very Japanese accessory...

Whilst Maria Sharapova is fresh in the mind, allow me to tell you about something my fiance's friend saw whilst shopping in Tenjin. Apparently she saw fake nipple patches that can be attached under your shirt or t-shirt to appear more like Sharapova (who apparently shows quite a bit of prominent nipple during her games). Only in Japan...


The subject of Maria Sharapova came up in one of my classes yesterday. Having asked the students to think about their ideal romantic partner, I was told by one boy that he would like someone who looks just like the Russian tennis player. Other preferences were more interesting (such as the pint-sized joker who requires "a big face, very tall, a fatty, dangerous, angry, a glutton") but the first got me thinking.

At the risk of incurring the wrath of guys everywhere, what's the big deal about Sharapova? She really isn't that attractive, facially at least, and although she has a good figure she's really pretty average. In a certain light she has a minute resemblance to Holly Valance, but in all honesty the strapping Russian can only dream that she'll ever be as fine as the ex-Neighbours girl...

Friday, January 13, 2006

The Buddhist Way of Japanese Hell

With a fairly empty Friday afternoon to spend, I stumbled upon some internet info about Japanese Buddhism, which included info about the ojoyoshu, which is basically a story of a guy that passes from this world to the next and describes the various stages of hell according to Buddhism.

In this day and age of depravity and mass media, the details are not as shocking as they would have been in the past, but there's still enough of a bite to make even the most resolute anus twitch. Unfortunately there was something of a network failure earlier and the following is all I could salvage, a bit of info about the first of eight hells:

Hell 1 - The Hell of Retributive Justice

Where: 8000 km below our world.
How long for: 12 and a half million years.
For who: anyone that has ever destroyed a life form or eaten meat.
What happens: sinners must scratch eachother with metal claws until they are nothing but bones and bits. Or they are beaten with iron bars until they are pulverised. Or they are coated in mud and turd and stung by a number of insects and made to drink piping hot liquid excrement.

If that's an indication of what is to come (not to mention the fact that it probably gets worse the further down you go) perhaps it's just as well the computer broke...

Thursday, January 12, 2006

The curse of the ticket gate procrastinators...

The train stations I have to frequent due to work (Kurume, Yanagawa) seem to be places where annoying people congregate. From the bus queue jumpers to the mobile phone shouters they all contribute in their own small ways to sully otherwise good days or compound the already bad ones.

But of all the people that I dislike the most, it has to be the ticket gate procrastinators that win the prize. There are three distinct types, which I will attempt to describe below.

Type One - The Ticket Searcher

Having spent 15+ minutes twiddling their thumbs en route, the ticket searcher waits until they are at the ticket gate to stop and slowly search for their ticket, being careful not to apologise to the ever growing crowd of people behind them.

Type Two - The Time Checker

Perhaps not as calculatingly annoying as the ticket searcher, the time checker nonetheless strolls into position in front of the gate and comes to a stop, nonchalantly gazing at the overhead departure board and causing a similar hold up.

Type Three - The Ticket Secreter

Arguably the most annoying of the three, the ticket secreter passes through the ticket gate only to come to an immediate dead stop to either a) slowly find their bag and put their ticket away or b) pause for no apparent reason. Unfortunately, this nuisance manifests itself on the outward phase of the journey (point a) and the return (points a and b). The one saving grace is that it could happen more, but those with travel passes are usually more au fait with commuting etiquette to do so).

Usually things are only ever made worse if, for example, a time checker moves laterally whilst looking at the departure board, thus blocking multiple ticket gates instead of just one, but there remains the ominous danger of a hybrid of the three, a TICTISTIS if you will, who starts as a time checker, changes into a ticket searcher and finally becomes a ticket secreter. Thankfully I've never come across such a monster, at least not yet...

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Ken's Grammar Lessons

If I had stayed at home and played my Star Wars lightsaber game, I wouldn't have had to have listened to their bollocks for the last 3 hours...

A couple of bad things about Japan

Consider the photos above... both show things that are rather bad about Japan (it could be a gross generalisation to say so, but I have seen a number of similar instances over the last 2 years that suggest otherwise). The first is more annoying than anything - a guy incredulously parking in front of the bus stop is dangerous but in practical terms the worst that could happen is that I miss my train home by 15 minutes instead of the usual 1.

The second is far more serious. This was taken in the car park of a busy supermarket in Kurume, and shows a 2 year old girl alone in a car. How long had she been there? Not sure, but due to the traffic we were parked for a good 10 minutes near her before we got the adjacent space, and no one came back to her. We then went into the supermarket and when we came out close to an hour later she was still there. Aside from the obvious dangers (she could choke on something and no one would be there to save her, she could fall and injure herself, she could become uncomfortable in the sealed car with no fresh air) there is also the danger that someone could come along and steal the car, along with the baby. I know that comparatively Japan is a safe country, but if a law abiding chap like me thought of it you can bet that less desirable types have too.

Shopping with a baby in tow may be annoying but what kind of mother would leave her unattended and seatbeltless in a locked car? The mind boggles...

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

A University dream realised!

What a funny thing fate is... it can knock you down when you are at your lowest ebb, and it can lift you to the highest plateaus when you are already elated. This afternoon I experienced the latter, and realised a 5 year dream that has been niggling at me since University - try out the Tim Tam Explosion, as expertly (and very erotically) demonstrated by Natalie Imbruglia on So Graham Norton.

Fate not only managed to send a Tim Tam my way (thanks to a teacher's Christmas trip to Australia), it also managed to keep the said Tim Tam from being eaten in an office full of foreign-confectionary gannets, who would eat anything that had a non Japanese name and a fancy wrapper. With Natalie Imbruglia's mouth firmly in mind, I tried the experiment, substituting her tea for my coffee.

And the result? Was it as orgasmic as Natalie claimed? Yes, it is! Obviously there are other things more pleasurable, but for me the Tim Tam Explosion is a little peace of heaven on earth. The only thing that would be better is if I were to see Natalie Imbruglia do it again and again, very slowly...

Alternative Heroes - Roy Horan

Roy who? Much like the Al Leong experiment, almost everyone has never heard of Roy Horan, but as soon as you something along the lines of "Tall, skinny, looks like Jesus, is in really ropey 70s kung fu movies" a collective realisation dawns - "Oh shit! yeah! That guy!"

Whilst far less prolific than Al Leong, Horan is nontheless memorable for being in two seminal (sort of) kung fu movies from the end of the 70s/early 80s. Jackie Chan's Snake in the Eagle's Shadow (1978) is by far superior to "Bruce Lee's" Game of Death 2 (1981), but it is in the latter that Horan shines as the rather bizarre Lewis - the master of The Palace of Death, a keeper of peacocks and lions and a kung fu exponent that advocates a dawn breakfast of raw vennison and fresh deer blood. Numerous quotes deserve to cement Horan into the Kung Fu hall of fame, but perhaps none more than his very smug recountances to Bruce Lee's screen brother in the palace gardens (overdubbed with terrible lip synching, naturally):

"I keep a lot of specially trained peacocks - they obey my every command."

"The lion is truly the king of all beasts - undeniably the fastest and most powerful animal. A good kung fu fighter should have the speed and power of a lion, especially when fighting his enemies. He should be ruthless like the lion - a killer. Kung Fu fighters should be fierce like the lion and swift like the peacock, so I study their styles."

Quite why Lewis opts for peacocks instead of a bewildering choice of much faster and more agile birds remains a mystery. He's a good guy though, and despite his home having the inauspicious title of The Palace of Death he isn't embroiled in the upside down tower of death-cum-watered down Bond villain drug factory debacle that leads to his death. Horan's character is just a guy that is content to tend to his animals, beat off challenges from the likes of the caped Yen brothers (who are asked to wait in Lewis' specially made challenger graveyard as a deterrent), employ a supposedly one-armed valet who plots his demise and completely fails to realise that a major drug factory is being operated downstairs.

For this, as well as being one of the true supporting stars of kung fu, and all those overdubbed speeches about peacocks and raw meat, Roy Horan, you are an Alternative Hero.

Friday, January 06, 2006

The Kids Strike Back!

Alas! O woe! Just when I thought I had finally laid the ghost of past defeats to rest with my video game annihilation of some elementary school kids a few months ago, my pitch was well and truly queered on New Year's Day at the hands of an even younger nipper. The game was snap. The nipper was Yu-chan.

This was an embarrassing drubbing for all sorts of reasons. First there is the fact that I used to play snap all the way through childhood, with everyone from grandma to the older kids down the road, and I was good. Then there's the fact that Yuu-chan is 4 years old and thus about 1/6th of my age, and about 1/4 of my size makes it even worse. And she didn't just beat me - she gave me the kind of drubbing that I used to think only happens once in a lifetime (three times so far to date, or four if you count the time my high school class got leathered 35-0 at five-a-side football in 1995)... Yuu-chan won the entire deck of hello kitty style miniature cards in about the same amount of time it takes to read the Lord's Prayer. Which is kind of appropriate really...

Apologies for the long silence

To those who read this page regularly, I need to apologise for my inactivity over the past couple of weeks. There are reasons, which I will outline now.

Reason One "I do not have the internet at the moment"

Having moved into my new, 3DK apartment from my pokey 1R one, I have had nothing but stress and bluff from my until-now exemplary relationship with Yahoo BB... perhaps it was naive of me to assume that in moving I would only have to call them up and tell them my new address in order for my connection to continue, but having to box up and send the modem to Tokyo (at my expense), being told that my area can only accept the very basic connection package and having to wait until February to be connected seems like several steps too far. Thus, after 16 happy months, Yahoo BB and I have parted ways.

Reason Two "I am soon to be between jobs"

I was told just before Christmas that my contract would not be renewed next year. Whilst in truth I hate my current job and will sing from the rooftops when I finally leave for the last time, a certain uncertainty has been cast on my immediate future. I really don't want to teach in a high school again, and instead really want to get back into conversation teaching. I have reapplied to my former company, and am currently waiting for the next stage in the process, but I'm not sure how the die will fall and contingency plans need to be made. In short, I have had a lot on my mind and there hasn't been much room for blogging.

Reason Three "I have just emerged from a moving house situation into a pre-wedding situation"

They say that moving is one of the most stressful times in life, and whilst mine wasn't so dramatic it certainly had it's moments. We are in a state of limbo at the moment, with appliances about to be delivered and furniture waiting to be moved in. Then there's the wedding in February, and the bureaucratic stress that comes with it (almost exclusively on the Japanese side I must say - and more precisely a handful of my soon-to-be wife's relatives). To complicate matters further, my fiance's father is in the hospital, so there is the worry over him as well.

In short, it's been a busy, bruising kind of fortnight, and other things have been occupying my mind. But now that work proper is about to start (Tuesday), there should be plenty more entries.

Until then, a happy new year to you all, or as we say in Japan akemashite omedetougozaimasu, kyonen mo yoroshiku onegaishimasu.