MY TIME AS A JET

PART FIVE: OCTOBER 1999


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OCTOBER

The beginning of my modelling career!

On October 3rd we had a rehearsal for the kimono show, in a former DIY store in Nagahama. It was a bit disorganised; we'd been told it would take about three hours, and that should have been plenty, but in fact it went on for six. It would have helped if they'd worked out the choreography beforehand, rather than having us all sitting around for ages. Some of the 60 outfits we were modelling had been changed, and the order had been decided; at least that had been done in advance.

There were three professional models, who showed us how to walk (stand up straight, tuck your bum in, stick your chest out and take long strides); about ten gaijin, mostly ALTs; and the others were all Japanese who, like us, had never done anything like this before. There was to be a kind of prelude, where three (slave?) girls in purple robes solemnly presented rolls of chirimen (silk crepe) to three "gods" while the three models, who I think were supposed to be some kind of goddesses, danced around on the catwalk. We foreigners weren't keen on the slave girl thing, but at least they didn't ask us to do it! Then the proper show started. The professional models each had three outfits, and everyone else had two. At any given time there were four people on the stage/catwalk, with two people coming on at a time. My outfits were numbers 25 and 33, which meant that I had a mad rush to get changed in time! Because my second outfit was one of the first "second" ones, I was also leading the finale, together with one other person. For the finale we all paraded along the catwalk, down the steps and into the audience.

At the rehearsal Practising
At the kimono show rehearsal.

New neighbour

At the beginning of October, Fukuda-san moved into one of the vacant apartments downstairs. Only the one directly below me remains unoccupied now. She came round to introduce herself a few days after moving in, and generously presented me with a box of six bars of very strongly prefumed Kao White soap - which I'll never get through! My conversation with her was pretty limited, due to my limited linguistic ability, but Kawanishi-san told me that she's a grandmother whose family lives nearby.

Changing of the seasons

Most of the students at both my schools changed over to their winter uniforms in early October, even though the temperature was still in the mid/high 20s (Celsius) on most days. Apparently the whole country is supposed to change over on October 1st; this includes company uniforms too. The main difference in the high school uniform is that the students start wearing their blazers. At a lot of schools the boys' jackets have a military look to them, single-breasted with a stiff collar and buttons right up to the neck. They're more like British school blazers at Hikone Nishi though, possibly because at one time it was an all girls' school.

In mid-October Japanese schools have a week of mid-term exams. What with school festivals, public holidays and typhoon days, it's a wonder that any teaching has been done for the students to be examined on! The first and second-year students at Hikone Nishi were spared a listening test this time around, but I had to record tapes for the third years and for the first years at Hachiman Technical.

The temperature dropped quite dramatically over the course of about a week in mid-October. It did become milder again a few days later, but it still got cold at night. It's going to get a lot colder yet though! I've read that the autumn colours are all the more spectacular after a long, hot summer followed by a sudden drop in temperature, so at least there's that to look forward to. The colours should be at their best around mid-November.

The Big Day

10th October was the big day of the kimono show. It was also the kimono matsuri (festival) in Nagahama, where thousands of women got dressed up in their best kimono and paraded round the city. We'd to be at the hotel at 12.30 but I went through to Nagahama a couple of hours earlier to take a walk round and see what was going on. I met up with Michael (my predecessor at Hikone Nishi), who was with his girlfriend Hiroko and a couple of her friends. Michael had forewarned me that a lot of visitors who come from out of town are excited to see foreigners, but I was still shocked to find that he and I - the two scruffy gaijin - seemed to be of more interest to the snap-happy visitors than all the thousands of women in fantastic kimono. I suppose the situation was exacerbated by the fact that Michael is probably the tallest person in Shiga! His comment was that it was like being monkeys in a zoo, except that we weren't the ones behaving like monkeys.

Kimono line-up on the bridge Hiroko & friends In front of one of the 'portable' shrines
Pictures from the kimono matsuri.

Anyway, after walking round the town for a while with Hiroko and her friends we headed off for a bento (lunchbox) and then the hotel. The afternoon was taken up with rehearsals, hairdos, make-up and sitting around waiting to be told what to do. The stage and catwalk were in a large ballroom set out with round tables for a meal, to seat around 250 conference delegates. Since the Kimono Summit was being held in one of the adjoining rooms, we had to enter and leave the ballroom via the kitchens and the back stairs so as to avoid being seen by the delegates before the show.

We were all caked with make-up (though some of the men got off relatively lightly) and had our hair clipped and sprayed into some very strange shapes. Michael looked as if he'd stepped straight out of Duran Duran - though GLAY, a very popular Japanese band, look a bit that way too, from the posters I've seen - and I got what I was told was a traditional Japanese hairstyle: there was a big roll of hair at the back (padded out with fake hair), held in place with at least a dozen clips and masses of hairspray, and a backcombed bit at each side. (I wondered how I'd ever get a brush through it again, but after a couple of washes and lots of conditioner it was just about manageable.) The Japanese girls all told me it was "kawaii" (cute), which from a Japanese point of view is always a good thing if you're female.

The order had been changed; I was now 23 and 33, which was a slight improvement but still fairly tight. I had to get changed in the wings of the stage rather than going backstage like everyone else. I was still leading the finale but now had to come on from the opposite side of the stage.

Hairdos
Carolyn, Kate and I show off our hairdos.

Waiting
Waiting for the show to begin.

Finale
Finale of the fashion show (that's me in the purple).

Before the fashion show there was a taiko-and-shakuhachi performance. Taiko is drums, and the shakuhachi is a traditional bamboo flute with a very piercing sound. (At least, I think it was the shakuhachi.) Our performance started at 6.20 and went on for about half an hour. Everything went smoothly, much to the relief of the organisers! - and afterwards there was a party for the cast. The show was filmed by the BBC (the Biwako Broadcasting Company, as opposed to its more famous namesake), to be shown on channel 5 on October 31st. Another video of the show was also made, and we were told that we would all be given copies of this video by the City of Nagahama. There's talk of further shows: one in the street, sometime before Christmas (we'll freeze!), for the people of Nagahama, since the general public weren't admitted to this performance; another in Nagoya, between here and Tokyo; and yet another in Nagasaki, on the island of Kyushu. Nagasaki sounds like fun, provided that our expenses are paid and we get some free time while we're there. And provided that we do exactly the same show again, so that not as many tedious hours of rehearsal time are needed. We were each given a "small gift" as thanks for doing this show; of course, none of us did it for the money, but if you looked at it as payment for hours worked, it came out at only about 2 per hour. Doing it once was a great experience, but most people weren't keen to go through it all a second time!

Teacher training

On October 13th I was required to go to Notogawa High School, a few minutes' train ride away, to observe a couple of lessons taught by Bill, a third-year ALT. Picked up some interesting ideas to get the students talking, but they were only suitable for use in smaller classes as they wouldn't work so well with a high student/teacher ratio. Iwasaki-sensei was there too, as was Amy and one of the English teachers she works with at Kawase High School. Maybe we'll try some of the ideas with the second and third-year students at Hikone Nishi.

Children's Hallowe'en camp

On the weekend of October 23rd-24th I attended a children's Hallowe'en camp in Omihachiman, organised by the Shiga IFS (International Friendship Society). The venue was a small complex by the lake shore consisting of two log cabins linked by decking, with storage space below - built entirely by volunteers. The cabins have been under construction for about 6 years and improvements are still being made; running water was a new feature added this year. (Unfortunately the only toilet facilities currently available are those for the nearby car park, which are less than pleasant!)

Maki Beach log cabins
The IFS log cabins at Maki Beach.

The camp was attended by around 55-60 children, ranging in age from 6 to 14, and they were pretty well-behaved. For the most part they also seemed quite proficient at English, considering their ages. Hallowe'en isn't celebrated in Japan, so the weekend was a cultural/language experience for them as well as a bit of fun away from their parents and school.

There were probably about 15 staff and helpers in total. The foreign helpers were Justin, a former Shiga ALT who now works near Nagoya; Amy (Kawase HS) and myself; an Indian guy called Garg; and a Danish-Korean girl called Yoon who was on a three-month homestay in Kyoto.

The camp started on Saturday afternoon with a few introductory speeches and an ice-breaking game which seemed to involve solving a number problem and getting into groups of the number arrived at. Then there was pumpkin-carving. Fortunately the weather was good so it could be done outside. Each group of seven kids was given two pumpkins to carve (Japanese ones, which were green on the outside and only slightly bigger than the turnips we sometimes carve in the UK). The results were quite impressive - apart from the fact that (despite my preventative efforts) about half of the lids had been cut out vertically rather than diagonally and so they fell straight through rather than sitting on top!

The next activity was the preparation of Hallowe'en costumes. The kids' creativity gave me some good costume ideas for the forthcoming AJET Hallowe'en party! While this was going on, the evening meal (curry rice) was being prepared in two enormous rice cookers and two enormous cooking pots, and a few tents were being erected in preparation for the "trick or treat" activity, which took place after dinner. The children put on their costumes, and we helpers manned the five tents - each marked by a jack-o-lantern - and three other "houses" for the children to visit. Unfortunately the wind kept blowing out the lanterns so in the end they had to be lit with torches. Each child had a bag to collect their "treats" in, and each helper had a bag of treats to distribute to callers - but only after they'd earned them, for example by answering a simple question in English (usually about their name or costume) or performing a song. Once the trick-or-treating was over, a ballot was held to choose the best costumes, and the winners got extra bags of goodies.

This was the end of the day's activities for the children, who bedded down in the larger of the two cabins around 10.30pm, apart from an adventurous few who opted for the tents. However, the staff and helpers didn't turn in until several hours, several alcoholic beverages, and - in true Japanese style - several "meetings" later.

The night was clear and very cold, but the next day was sunny again and got quite warm as the morning went on. After breakfast (corn soup, bananas and bread rolls or rice) most of the morning was taken up with games on the field. Yes, there was actually a grassy recreation/camping area just by the cabins - a rare sight in Japan! Apart from that groggy feeling you have after too little sleep, it was a pleasant morning. First there was a "Who am I?"-type game where each child had an English word on his or her back and had to guess what it was from the others' gestures, then they played "Concentration" (slap, clap, click (own word), click (someone else's word)) using the same words. Lunch - which the kids helped to prepare - consisted of soup (pumpkin or vegetable) and hot dogs. This was followed by a couple of games of True or False (called Marubatsu in Japanese), then miscellaneous other games, toasting marshmallows and finally, around 3pm, tidying up and departure. Only about 24 hours in total, but I don't think I could have managed much more!

IFS camp
Posing with some of my new friends.

AJET Hallowe'en party

The Shiga AJET Hallowe'en party took place in Omi-Hachiman on 29th October. Almost everyone had made an impressive effort with their fancy dress costumes, and the winners included six people dressed up as the ingredients of yakisoba (soba noodles, carrots, pork, cabbage, sauce etc.), Nate the "cereal killer", and Rachel the skeleton. I made use of the fake hair I had left over after the fashion show and went as a garden gnome, complete with dowelling, cardboard and tinfoil shovel. Needless to say, copious quantities of various alcoholic potions were consumed and it was a good night.


Costumes at the Hallowe'en party.

Visitor from home

From 30th to 31st October I had my first visitor from the UK: Darren, who was working in Sendai (where I visited him in 1997) until spring of this year, when he moved back to the UK and started work at Southampton University. He'd come to Japan for a conference in Kyoto, but his visit happened to coincide with the beginning of the Hikone Castle Festival, one of the biggest events in Hikone's annual calendar. We went up to the castle, where various events were taking place; visited Genkyu-en (the famous garden next to the castle); had a look round the antique market by the castle entrance and the food stalls in the civic centre; and generally had a walk around the town. It was a nice warm day, and the leaves were beginning to change colour too. They're pretty now, but will probably be at their most spectacular in a couple of weeks' time.

Darren + castle
Darren in front of Hikone Castle's main donjon (keep).

The promised programme about the kimono matsuri and fashion show was shown that evening, but it was a bit disappointing: only 15 minutes, with a total of about 30 seconds of the fashion show. Most of the shots were of the three professional models, with just a few glimpses of the more distinctive gaijin: Carolyn with her dreadlocks, Aaron with his long goatee and Michael, the tallest person in the show. Maybe the rest of us just looked too ordinary! They seemed to focus on the darker outfits too, although Nozaki-san was particularly eager to show off the more colourful ones when we originally tried them on.
I did see a short trailer for the programme on Thursday; unfortunately I didn't manage to get a recording, but it was definitely myself I saw on that! A Japanese friend later called the TV company and asked for a copy of the trailer, but they claimed that they couldn't provide a copy because it would be in breach of copyright law. I don't see why, since it was their film in the first place, but never mind, at least the other video covers the entire show.


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© Lynne Donaldson
This page last edited 18th October 2002