Friday, 30 July 2010

Tomorrow is the day

Preparations are now mostly finished and tomorrow is the day. The plan is to wake up early, get a lift to town from the parents, catch a coach to the airport, kill some time, check in, and then finally board the plane to Tokyo. I'm not sure when I'll be writing my next blog entry, as I'll have to get hold of a laptop and internet connection in Aomori, but stay tuned and look forward to updates from the Land of the Rising Sun shortly...

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Tuesday, 27 July 2010

近づいている

We're only 4 days away from the big day now. Most of the two months I've spent at my parents' house have flown by, but these last few days have been a slow, slow drip. Apart from being in Japan, I'm looking forward to sleeping in a conventional bed (rather than a fold-out one) and not getting woken up every morning at 7 (by my parents). After arriving in Tokyo we'll be staying in the upscale Keio Plaza Hotel in Shinjuku for three nights, so that should be quite a change from what I'm used to.

I've spent these last few days preparing for Japan. Last week I went into town to pick up some regional items to show my colleagues and for if I do school visits - it's always a good idea for the kids to have something physical to look at. I went to the Tourist Information Centre and picked up a few free leaflets on the local area, making sure there were lots of colourful photos inside. I couldn't really find anything on Sheffield in general, as most of the leaflets were focused on one particular event or place, but I also bought loads of postcards with things like the Supertram and the Sheffield Wednesday ground on, so I reckon I'll have enough stuff to show everyone.


I've also bought some gifts to give out to my seniors at work. Giving gifts (お土産) to your co-workers is an important part of Japanese culture, and it's usually done after you've been on a trip or on holiday. You also generally give gifts when you go to stay at someone's house or the like, so I guess when you combine those two customs it's only right for JETs to bring gifts. It's a kind of "nice-to-meet-you" present, as well as a good introduction to your home country/region. Last time I went to Japan I was staying at someone's house straight away, so I took gifts then as well. I wanted to buy a Yorkshire Tea tin, which I knew you could get, but I didn't manage to find one, so settled on some biscuits and Earl Grey tea. But this time I went to the Yorkshire Tea website and ordered a couple of those tins along with some other goodies to give out. I found the prices relatively cheap, and I think they'll make great presents. And because of a shortage of decent tea in Japan, I'll probably be nipping back to my seniors to borrow a few tea bags later on.

I've also bought any extra clothes I needed, had my leaving party, sorted my travel insurance and booked my coach ticket down to Heathrow, so all that's left to do now is pack my suitcase and go.

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Sunday, 25 July 2010

Pokémon HeartGold and SoulSilver adverts

Nintendo's adverts in the UK for Pokémon HeartGold and SoulSilver earlier this year were quite interesting. These games were remakes of 1999's Pokémon Gold and Silver, and the people that played those games as kids are now old enough to reminisce about them as adults, and that's the idea Nintendo tried to tap into in their ad campaign.





It seems they used the same tactic in Japan as well.



Gold and Silver were my favourites of the Pokémon series, and it totally doesn't seem 10 years ago since they first came out. I bought Gold again a couple of years ago, and after sending it to Nintendo to get a replacement battery played it through, and it's still as great as ever. I'm planning to take my GBA SP to Japan with me actually. I should have some spare time to start gaming again, and I'm hoping to pick up some wacky Japanese titles while I'm out there.

I gather Pokémon Black and White are coming out for the DS soon, but I'm not all that interested. Pokémon on the Game Boy has always been more fun for me, for some reason. In fact, I went into a couple of games shops the other day with my brother as he wanted to exchange an Xbox 360 game. It was the first time in ages, and felt strange. I didn't want to play any of the games on the shelves, and these places where I'd spend many a Saturday afternoon no longer felt like somewhere I wanted to be. The new consoles, even the Wii, don't really interest me anymore, but give me a Game Boy or Mega Drive and we're talking.

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Thursday, 22 July 2010

Graduation

So my university career is now officially over, 3 years, 9 months and 25 days after it all began. This Tuesday I graduated with a BA (Hons) in Japanese Studies.




Above is one photo with my sister and brother and then one with some of my classmates, both taken just outside Firth Hall.  It was a great occasion and it was good having everyone meet up one last time.

There were two parts to the day.  The first was a buffet in Firth Hall for students of the East Asian Studies department, and the second was the actual graduation ceremony in the Octagon Centre.  My family and I arrived at the university around midday and the first thing I had to do was pick up my robes which I'd pre-ordered over the internet.  The last time I was around the university the Students' Union was still being re-modelled and the whole place was a building site.  But the builders had obviously put a shift in and got the majority of the union done for the graduation ceremonies.  It looks completely different now, and much more like an airport than it did before.  I always thought the re-design was unnecessary, but apparently the university have millions to splash on the Union and none on proper teaching staff.  That's the thing with Sheffield though - it's constantly being re-developed, so you turn your back for a second and everything's changed.  But it's usually for the better - I think the city centre looks pretty decent now.

After I'd donned my robes and my family had taken a few photos we headed over to Firth Hall for the buffet.  There weren't too many people there when we first arrived, and some students didn't show up at all until the graduation ceremony, which meant photos such as the one above only have half of our class in them.  It was good to chat to my Japanese and Korean teachers one last time though.

When all the wine and champagne had been drank we headed over the road to the Octagon Centre and took our seats for the ceremony.  This ceremony consisted of students from the geography, sociology and East Asian departments, all part of Social Sciences at Sheffield. There were about 400 or so students and their families, and one after another we all filed out of our seats, up onto the stage, shook the chancellor's hand, walked off the stage, picked up our certificate and went back to our seat. I found it funny how all the costumes worn by the university staff seemed to have not changed since Tudor times. The trumpet fanfare and church organ music made it feel like some kind of church service or coronation as well.

And with that, we'd graduated. Most of us from Japanese then went down to one of the restaurants in the Union and had a drink and something to eat. It was interesting talking to my mates' parents, and all the families really seemed to enjoy the day as well. After that some of us branched off into a smaller group and went to have some dinner at a Japanese restaurant on London Road. The food wasn't bad, but I couldn't help looking forward to actually being in Japan and eating the real thing in under two weeks' time.

We then went for one last game of pool and a drink in Bar One, a place we've spent quite a few evenings over the last four years, and a place where the beer is extremely reasonably priced. I don't think I'll ever see such low beer prices again. We all then said our goodbyes and went our separate ways. I have no idea when I'll see some of those guys again, if ever, but some of us are going over to Japan to work straight away, so no doubt I'll be staying in touch and seeing those guys quite a bit.

So not long until I leave now, just 9 days. Tonight I'm having a farewell drink with some of my mates from Sheffield, and then I'll work my last shift at Pizza Hut on Friday night. そろそろやな.

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Sunday, 18 July 2010

"Revealing Japan's low-tech belly"

Interesting article here called "Revealing Japan's low-tech belly". For many, Japan is a nation at the forefront of all new technology, but once you've spent a bit of time there, you'll realise that's not really the case. Yes, they are ahead in some areas (touch screens in restaurants to order your food from, or baths that monitor and adjust the temperature of your water), but they are years, even decades behind in others (a reliance on cash over credit cards, or little central heating). Add to that a rapidly ageing population and many people would be surprised that Japan isn't as hi-tech as it portrays itself. But in some ways, this lack of reliance on technology is refreshing, and I still maintain it's the most comfortable and easiest place to live in the world.

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Saturday, 17 July 2010

Two weeks left

I came across this cool project today. A group of Star Wars fans have got together and tried to raise $3000 to fund the restoration of the Lars Homestead from Star Wars: A New Hope. Apparently the structure used in the film still stands in Tunisia but may soon deteriorate, so when these guys raise the money they're going to go out with tools and plaster to save it from disappearing forever. There's also an interesting report of a previous 8-day trip to visit many of the filming locations in Tunisia. I'm not in the financial situation to be able to donate right now, but it's an awesome idea and I'm sure they'll achieve their target soon.

In other news, things are hotting up as it's now only two weeks until I head out to Japan. I'll have to buy clothes, coach tickets and gifts, and then do all my packing soon. I have my graduation ceremony this Tuesday, and I'm working my penultimate shift at Pizza Hut this evening, then my last will be next Friday.

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Sunday, 11 July 2010

Today/this week

Today I went to visit my grandparents from my mum's side. It's maybe the last time I'll see them for a while now, and I mainly went over to say thank you for some money they gave me to help me through my first few weeks in Japan. As I mentioned in a previous post, they've always been a big inspiration for me. They've lived and travelled all over the place, and my grandma told me today that they wanted to give me the money as they remember the difficulty of heading out to Africa as missionaries with little money to their name when they were younger. This afternoon I listened to them tell tales from the past, including stories from their holidays to Hawaii as well as from my granddad's time spent working in Hong Kong in the 1970s.

Today I also handed in my notice of resignation to Pizza Hut. I haven't had that many shifts there lately to be honest. I worked one last night, but I'll perhaps only have one or two more before I leave. The place is quiet whenever the weather's nice.

Just watched the World Cup final. I thought Spain were deserving winners. I'll perhaps write some deeper thoughts about this year's World Cup at a later point.

There was a bit of sad news this week when MxPx's drummer, Yuri Ruley announced his departure from the band. I've posted about this band a few times on here, and although I wouldn't really claim to have a favourite band, if I did, MxPx would probably be it. They haven't made a killer release in a while now, but their albums have always been decent at the least and soundtracked different periods of my teenage years; 2000's The Ever Passing Moment and 1996's Life In General will always be two of my all-time fave albums. Also, Yuri has had such an influence on my personal drumming style, that it'll be sad not to hear him behind the kit anymore. I've always admired his blisteringly fast and basic style, much in the vein of Bill Stevenson, and his whole philosophy has definitely rubbed off on me and affected my own way of playing.

Now it's not that the band are splitting up, but Yuri's departure signals the breakup of the line-up which has basically spanned the whole of MxPx's nearly 20-year career. And being such a close-knit power trio I don't think it'll be long before the band calls it a day entirely - it wouldn't feel like MxPx if the band were to continue without Yuri. And I get the impression we won't be seeing too much of Yuri as part of other musical projects, as it sounds like he wants to concentrate on raising his family. Fortunately, there should be one last musical utterance from him as part of the MxPx side-project, Arthur. And his final MxPx show will take place in Las Vegas on the 18th of this month, where the band will play their magnum opus, Life In General in full. That would be a killer show to be at man. But I'm glad I got to see MxPx twice, the first of those probably ranking as my all-time fave live experience. Me and my sister went to see them at Nottingham's Rock City in August 2005, and they hadn't been to the UK in years at that point, so I was pretty jazzed to see this band who I'd been listening to for ages for the first time. And if I remember right, for some reason they were only playing two dates in the UK at that time, which added to the buzz around the gig. The venue was packed, as people kept cramming in all the way through the night until no-one else could fit. It turned out to be an amazing gig, and then we went to see them again a year later in Leeds, and that time we met the guys after the show. Three great guys.

It was good to see all the positive comments on the Punknews new story, and I left my own, as I wouldn't be surprised if the band read Punknews. It's good to know Yuri won't fade out into punk rock obscurity completely, and I'll look forward to the release of Arthur's long awaited LP.

Incidentally, I got another review posted on Punknews earlier on this week, this one for Teen Idols' self-titled debut album.

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Saturday, 3 July 2010

JET Pre-Departure Orientation in London

I came back from London yesterday after attending the UK JET Pre-Departure Orientation there. It took place over the 1st and 2nd at Brunel University, and in the day there were talks and language classes, while at night everyone stayed over at the on-campus hotel/accomodation. The accommodation was decent, even if it didn't feel 5 star like the sign outside the reception claimed, and I stayed over on the night of the 30th as well due to the 9am start the next day.

There were quite a few of us staying over on the 30th and we all bumped into each other, formed a group and went to the city centre for something to eat. Apart from myself there was only one other guy who'd been to Japan before, so I fielded quite a lot of questions concerning the country and its language. By the morning of the 1st all the UK JETs (over 100 in total) had arrived and I managed to have at least a short chat with a large number of those, eventually finding the other 4 JETs who'll be working in Aomori. And after meeting all these people I realised that JET have done a good job on the selection process, as everybody seems intelligent and eager to head out, even if they've had little, or no, experience of Japan before. There were also no (discernible) anime geeks, and pretty much everyone seemed well socially adjusted, which I was glad about, as there's definitely room for improving the image of the typical Westerner in Japan. There was also a good selection of people from every part of the UK, including Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Another thing that struck me is how small the community of people with an interest in Japan in the UK is. I had random connections or mutual friends with a lot of the people I met over the three days, and I even met one guy who I'd seen a few months previously at an interview for a different Japan-related job.

There are two different jobs within the JET programme, and the vast majority of those going from the UK are ALTs (Assistant Language Teachers). However, I'm going out as a CIR (Co-ordinator of International Relations), and apart from me there are only three other CIRs from the UK this year. We had separate language classes from the ALTs, and these were focused mostly on 敬語 (keigo - honorific language) and telephone Japanese, as we'll be using a lot of that in our respective workplaces. The four of us got on well, and I'm looking forward to seeing the guys at the Tokyo orientation.

I managed to get down to London and back for cheap using National Express, and I enjoyed sampling McDonalds' new Mars milkshake whilst waiting for my coach in Victoria Station. Going to McDonalds reminds me of Japan, in fact, as I used to go a lot during my time in Kobe. For long stretches of time I was extremely busy, returning home late with little time to cook anything, and this meant I would often stop off at McDonalds whilst passing through Sannomiya to pick up a few burgers for dinner. McDonalds is even cheaper in Japan than the UK, with cheeseburgers being just 99 yen, and I remember there was also an offer on at one point where the Filet-O-Fish was 99 yen, and I used to buy four or so of them on every visit. When I had time though, and if it was open, I would prefer to go to Wendy's, which was a bit more out of the way, but the burgers were equally as cheap and far more tasty. There were also many times when I would smuggle Wendy's burgers into karaoke for a quick snack in-between songs. It's a shame that Wendy's have since ceased operations in Japan, meaning I won't be able to enjoy their Jr. BBQ burgers next year. I am looking forward to being able to frequent Mister Donut next year though - I've already checked their website and there are quite a few of them in Aomori City. In fact, Mister Donut was mentioned in one of the talks we had during the orientation, as the man giving this talk on life in Japan as a Brit had also been extremely fond of the place during his time there.

Anyway, the days are slowly passing by, and it won't be long before I'm flying out from Heathrow on July 31st to begin my job as a CIR in Aomori City. I don't mind being around for this lovely British summer we're having until then though.

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