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Festivals & fireflies

On June 2nd I attended a birthday party for Risako, one of the volunteer teachers at the Nihongo Kyoushitsu (weekly Japanese lessons sponsored by the city), at her family's house in Taga. Loads of people and food. After eating, we went outside - they have a small garden which overlooks the river - and watched the fireflies. I'd never seen fireflies before; I'm not sure if they even exist in Britain. There weren't very many, but apparently there were expected to be more in a week or two's time. Having watched the fireflies for a while, we went back indoors and took turns to demonstrate / teach each other songs and cultural activities. For my part, I part-taught, part-performed the Highland Fling (without music, unfortunately, since I hadn't anticipated doing it) and a children's song or two. Tracy's husband Pete was eventually cajoled into performing the Hakka (sp?), a Maori war/fertility dance, together with Amy's boyfriend Akio; Tracy taught everyone the Maori stick dance (using newspaper "sticks"); and James and Risako's (American) boyfriend Larry gave a juggling performance. The Japanese present taught us a couple of songs too, including one to the tune of "Ten Little Indians" about making food for a picnic.

Maori stick dance
Tracy teaching the Maori stick dance.

That weekend was also the beginning of the 10-day firefly festival in Santo-cho, at the base of Mt. Ibuki, so on the Sunday evening I went along with Freya. It turned out to be pretty spread out, with shuttle buses (¥300 for a hop-on, hop-off pass that doubled as a souvenir fan) running between the different areas. We were lucky and saw a lot of fireflies; apparently the previous day there had been a breeze so they hadn't been flying. In one area the fireflies seemed totally unperturbed by the crowds of humans and often seemed quite happy to land on people's hands or fans. It was very pretty, like having live Christmas lights drifting around. At one point I noticed a faint glow coming up from the dirt and gravel path and found a firefly half-buried there, in grave danger of being trodden on. So I fished it out of the dirt and onto my fan, and it crawled up the fan and half way up my arm before flying off quite happily. Unfortunately my photos of the event didn't come out very well.

Visitor at Genko

Had a bit of a strange lesson at Genko on June 5th. The lesson, with a 3rd year class, coincided with the boys' medical checkups and so at first it looked as if I was only going to have a single girl to teach. However, the situation kept changing as the day went on, and in the end we had the full class for all but the first five minutes of the lesson. They were a noisy bunch but did seem to enjoy the games - it was my "numbers and currency" lesson, with games where representatives from each team (column) took turns to compete at the blackboard. What made them even more excitable than usual was the fact that they had a visitor: a guy who - as I found out afterwards - had dropped out of the class two years before and was now training as a hairdresser, and had just popped in to see his friends. He had bleached blond (not just brown) hair and a yellow T-shirt, so I did wonder...

Bamboo galore

On 9th June I went out for the last time with the Yokaichi forest conservation volunteers. Since we're back into mosquito season, everyone was kitted out with mosquito coils.

Mosquito coils
Lighting the mosquito coils.

The bamboo was at its most rampant, so bamboo shoots in various guises formed the basis of our lunch. It really does grow at an incredible rate. In mid-morning I had my picture taken next to a bamboo shoot that was the same height as me (172cm) - and by 4pm it had grown another 10cm or more!

Rampant bamboo
This bamboo shoot was (I was told) probably less than a week old. This picture was taken at about 10.40am, and by 4pm it had grown at least another 10cm!

I also encountered the "semen tree" - I don't know what its real name is, but that's what it smells like!

Email problems

iName (my email forwarding service) has been playing up again, delaying my mail for several days and sometimes even losing it. All part of their server upgrade, I suppose, but I already went through this a few weeks ago and thought they'd got it sorted out. I'm sure it's only a temporary problem, and all 60 or so pages on this site point to my iName address so I'm not going to go through and change them all unless the problem goes on for a long time. I have changed my Reply-to address over to my new domain name though, and suggested that friends update their address books.

Clearing out

I get thrown out of my accommodation on July 17th, and my contract ends on July 18th, so I've started selling off my belongings, or packing them up and sending them home. All my postal stuff is going by surface mail, which should take about a month. The weight limit on small packets (works out cheaper than parcel post up to about 15kg, provided that you're right on the weight limit with each packet) is 2kg, and on printed matter it's 5kg unless you use special book bags which are only available from the prefecture's central post office in Otsu. Since the only means of transport I possess is a bike with a small basket on the front (though I have now borrowed a portable luggage trolley from Sachiko), lugging everything to the post office just to find out how heavy it is is going to be a real pain, so I've improvised a set of scales. The balance is made from a wire trestle (intended to support a carrier bag), taped shut and suspended using S-hooks from a dowel rod laid across an airing rack. I've hung more hooks on each end to balance it, and made weights totalling 5kg, using a 1kg bag of sugar, a box of rice and assorted bottles of water. So now I can weigh anything up to 5kg in increments of 0.5kg. I tested it on my bag of kimono stuff, which more or less balanced on the 4kg "setting", and when I weighed it at the post office it turned out to be 4075g. An error of less than 2% - not bad for improvisation!

AJET beach party

Friday 15th June was the date of the annual AJET farewell beach party at Pasta Pasta in Omi-Hachiman. Most people came along in beachwear (there were even a couple in drag!), and it turned out to be a very drunken affair - I'm sure the drinks were stronger than usual.

Beach party Beach party Beach party - the girls from Brum
AJET beach party.

Temples and flowers

On July 17th I took a trip down to Uji, south of Kyoto, with Tomo-chan. We visited Mimuroto-ji, which is famous for its hydrangeas (ajisai in Japanese) (it's famous for other flowers too but it was the hydrangeas that were at their peak when we were there), and Byodo-in, the temple shown on the back of the ¥10 coin. Had a hard time finding anything to eat that wasn't green-tea-flavoured - matcha (the powdered green tea used for tea ceremony) being a local speciality - but eventually we located a noodle shop and ate there. We considered going back to see the evening light-up at Mimuroto-ji but decided against paying the admission fee again.

Hydrangeas At Byodo-in
With the hydrangeas at Mimuroto-ji, and at Byodo-in.

Both of these temples were on a pilgrimage circuit of 33 temples in the Kansai area; if you visit all 33 then it's supposed to guarantee your place in heaven. You can buy special books, the idea being that you take your book to all the temples and acquire the special local calligraphy at each one. Tomoko had brought along her family book, so she queued up at each temple and purchased the calligraphy. I didn't see much point in doing it myself, because there's no way I'm ever going to get to the other 31 temples on the circuit, the calligraphy costs several hundred yen each time on top of the entrance fee (nice money-spinner for the temples!), and besides, I'm not sure that I really want to go to Japanese heaven!

Tomo-chan queuing up to get the calligraphy in her family book.

Visitors from the States

On June 21st we had guests at school: Claudia Kimura, a former Shiga ALT who's now a Japanese teacher at a school in San Diego, and four of her second and third year students. They arrived at school during first period and stayed until just after lunch. For 2nd to 4th periods they were placed with ESS members and went along with them to their lessons: the two boys with Masahiro (our only male ESS member) in class 2-1, and the two girls with Ikuko in 2-7. In the meantime I looked after Kimura-sensei, who helped me with the one English lesson I had to teach. Then we had lunch in the ESS room with all of the ESS members and a few other girls who were very taken with Juan (whom they referred to as "nice boy"!).

PE lesson Handing out sweets Lunchtime
The American visitors: Kristen and Margaret playing basketball in the gym with 2-7; handing out sweets to the Nishiko students; lunch in the ESS room. (Claudia's pictures.)

After that, the Americans left to visit the castle before catching a train down to Omi-Hachiman, where they had a meeting at the private Omi-Kyodaisha High School with a view to setting up an exchange between their two schools.

1st birthday party

Tatsuro and Minami had their joint 1st birthday party on June 23rd (Tatsuro's birthday; Minami's is the 25th), at an izakaya in Hikone. Tatsuro is walking now so he was constantly wandering off, with people chasing after him to make sure he didn't get into trouble. Minami can manage a few steps but isn't very steady on her feet yet, and didn't seem so eager to explore the rest of the building.

Mums and babies Cakes
Birthday do: mums and babies (swapped), and the cakes being brought in.

After the meal and a few games, ten of us went on to karaoke, at Boo, a place I hadn't been to before. The only room available when we arrived at about 11.30 was the party room, which had a Super Bemax machine - which turned out to mean not a single English song, except for the (very) occasional song in English by a Japanese artist. They didn't even have the Beatles, and someone put "Top of the World" on but it turned out to be translated into Japanese! It wasn't only us native English speakers who were disappointed with this. Fortunately we were able to change rooms after about half an hour. Most of the rooms there weren't big enough for ten people, and the one we got stank of cigarette smoke but at least it had a reasonable selection of English songs (it was a Giga machine). The Super Bemax one did have one thing going for it, though: the videos often actually bore some relevance to the songs!

On the way out

As June came to an end I withdrew from all my regular activities, such as my kimono lessons and Japanese class, to allow time in between all the forthcoming leaving do's to prepare for my departure. I sent my first 21kg of belongings home in June, with at least the same again to follow later. Parcel post by surface mail worked out to be the cheapest method, except for printed matter, which can be sent at special rates. The price for printed matter can be halved if you send it in special bags available from certain post offices, but unfortunately the only post offices that they're available from in Shiga are down in Kusatusu and Otsu.

I've also been busy planning my travels for after my contract ends. I'm planning on taking the ferry from Shimonoseki to Busan (formerly romanized as Pusan) in Korea, leaving Japan on the same day my working visa expires. After spending five days in Korea I plan to re-enter Japan on a tourist visa, exchange the 1-week JR Pass voucher which my parents are going to buy in the UK and send me (having a tourist visa makes me eligible to use the pass), and spend three days working my way up the Japan Sea coast and back to Hikone. Then, after one night in Hikone, I'm intending to take the shinkansen and express trains up to Sapporo in Hokkaido, spend almost a week on Hokkaido, and then work my way back down to Hikone using only local trains and a combination of 18-kippu / pay-as-I-go. On the way back down I'm going to take in the Aomori Nebuta-matsuri and Hirosaki Neputa-matsuri (both on the same evening, so I'm just hoping that I'll get to Hirosaki before all the fun is over!), then go on to see the Akita Kanto (a festival where people balance enormous racks hung with lanterns), then visit Nikko with my friend Richard who lives in Tochigi-ken. Finally it's on to the Tokyo/Chiba area, where I have several friends I hope to meet up with, before heading back to Hikone again for the last two or three days before I fly home. For at least a couple of nights I'm going to - at long last - be making use of the AJET Tatami Timeshare network of JETs who offer free accommodation to other JETs.

Unfortunately I'm not going to be able to climb Mount Fuji with the three landmines hikers (see and the group they've assembled for the event, because they've ended up scheduling it for the weekend I'm in Korea. Oh well, whichever weekend they chose, there was bound to be someone whom it wouldn't suit. They are expecting to be in Tokyo at the same time as me, though, so maybe I'll manage to meet up with them again there.

UK talk

On Saturday June 30th I gave a talk for Hikone city, on the UK - entirely in Japanese! Sachiko had been pestering me to do this for over a year, and I kept procrastinating on the grounds that my Japanese wasn't good enough yet, but in the end, as my time in Japan was beginning to run out, I agreed to do it. I translated (with some help) the same handout that I use at school, and used that as the basis for my talk. 90 minutes were scheduled for the event, and it was attended by about 30 people. I spent about 40 minutes talking through the handout, then we had a question-and-answer session during which I was asked, among other things, what we have for afternoon tea (the Japanese have this idea that everyone in England stops for afternoon tea every day at 4pm) and whether there are any bridges or tunnels between Scotland and Northern Ireland. Then I taught everyone Strip the Willow, and finally I did the same UK quiz, in English, that I use at school. (Apparently a lot of people had expressed disappointment that the entire talk wasn't going to be in English, but that wasn't what the city wanted.) The whole event went pretty well.

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© Lynne Donaldson
This page last edited 17th October 2002