Sunday, November 06, 2005

right, its about time for an update!

I have no more excuses! I have an excellent internet connection in my apartment, so I should have posted on here more recently, but such is life. You get to read this now instead!

Things have taken a turn to the chillier side since the last time I posted. Then I was in summer gear - but now the shorts have been packed away and replaced with thick jumpers, gloves and a winter coat (and probably long johns and vests before too long!). My apartment manages to hold the heat quite well, so I don't feel so cold in the mornings, but Tom & April's houses are beginning to feel like ice boxes! The long winter has set in! I'm debating whether I should get one of those covers to put over my car overnight so I don't have to spend ages scraping the windscreen in the morning as it can get down to -20 degrees here! I'm a little wary of buying a kerosene heater, as they can be dangerous if your place isn't properly ventilated. I will see how the others do first, but for now I will use my electric heater and my kotatsu (electrically heated table). We've also been told that bubble wrap on the windows is quite a good way of keeping the heat in - maybe I'll do that, and buy several draught excluders. I'm also stocking up on supplies of hot drinks (green tea and coffee being the main ones), and trying to extend my cooking beyond pasta and stir fry so I don't have to go to the restaurants to eat out all the time! Although they'd be warmer so definitely a positive thing.

However life trundles on as normal here - Matt came for a short holiday recently and we had a fantastic time. We spent the first weekend discovering the lights, chaos and excitement of Tokyo which was amazing. Every time I go there, I always discover something new - it's a fantastic city. We stayed in a ryokan (traditional Japanese inn) in Minowa in the northern part of the city (I would thoroughly recommend it to anyone travelling to Tokyo on a budget: - 8190 yen per room per night, free internet, very clean and modern and no curfew!)

After coming back to Shiojiri, Matt came with me to school one day and there was gossip and pointing in the corridors as we walked between lessons! They couldn't believe it, and at one point the noise was pretty deafening as they were shouting and screaming in amazement and delight! I got Matt to Matsumoto the next day so he could see the castle and enjoy the fantastic cosmopolitan city that it is!
I had taken 3 days of leave (nenkyuu) so that we could take a short trip to Kyoto, and this was a really enjoyable few days! We travelled to Nagoya by train, and then changed to take the short shinkansen (bullet train) ride between Nagoya and Kyoto (only 36-7 minutes!). This was a fantastic experience, and was definitely a highlight of the trip. We had both been really looking forward to it and it didn't disappoint - the bullet trains really are the most fantastic inventions on this Earth!
We stayed in a guesthouse in Kyoto which was OK, but not the nicest place in the world. The owner was very friendly though, spoke good english and gave us some handy tips of places to eat and where we should go to spot the geisha and maiko girls, which we did that very evening. We decided to take in a few of the sights that afternoon so we headed up to the Kankuji (Golden Pavillion) which was nice, but about 3 school groups arrived just as we got there so the place was pretty crowded. We were hoping that the leaves would be red, but they had only just started to turn. In any case, it was still a spectacular sight. Some of the students tried their English out on us, but the conversation never got much further than them saying they liked David Beckham and asking if we liked Victoria! Obsessive or what??

We then walked along the road to the zen garden at the rouanji (? I think that's the name) temple. There will be pictures of all these on my photo website soon. It's just a garden with 15 rocks and the rest of the area is covered with white gravel. After heading back to the downtown area, we sought out the back streets of Gion to catch a glimpse of the geisha girls, who were something else! We then had a few drinks in the Asahi brewery beer cellar followed by a meal in the Musasashi sushi restaurant chain - I'd been to one before, but this was Matt's first experience of a sushi restaurant with a conveyor belt and everything. After this, we wandered the streets a bit, checking out a few bars, coffee shops and arcades to while away the time before heading back home to bed.

By the end of the second day, I was starting to feel "templed out", but we visited Kiyomizu-dera which has a fantastic view of Kyoto, as well as Nanzen-ji, the Heian shrine and Chionin. These were all amazing places, especially Chionin where everything is of massive proportions! In the morning, we also visited Sanjusangendo temple, where there are 1001 Buddhas; a fantastic sight! That evening we ate at a Japanese izakaya, which was really good food and reasonable prices and had a few drinks before heading back to the guesthouse.

Our last day in Kyoto was similarly exciting. After checking out of the guesthouse, we dumped our bags at Kyoto station (a building which is so modern and does a good contrast with the traditional suroundings), and we then went to see the Fushimi Inari shrine, one of Japan's most popular shrines with a long path covered with the typical red shrine gates. It really was a sight to behold. After some lunch we decided to visit Nijo-jo (Nijo castle), and while we were there, we fell upon a modern art exhibition where high pitched sounds are projected in a very dark room and this somehow creates light images. It went "whoooosh" straight over my head but made a nice break from being out in the sun all the time. The castle itself was well laid out and made an interesting visit.
We decided soon after to head back to Shiojiri, as we were hot and didn't fancy getting back too late. A fast zip down to Nagoya and we just made our connection running onto the platform where the train was due to leave for Shio!

My job continues as busy as ever! Most of my fellow ALT's don't seem to be as busy as I do; maybe that's me poorly managing my time, but I find myself busy during all my free class periods. The school want me to do exactly the same amount of work as my predecessor did but with one and a half days less than she had! This means that, per week, I have 8 periods of regular 2nd/3rd grade elective classes (Language Lab x2, Foreign Studies and News English), 3/4 periods of 1st year oral communication classes, French x2 and Teachers' English Conversation classes x2, English Club twice a week and trying to fit in oral homework for the language lab students during breaks and after school, as well as preparing for my lessons in Koyo. It doesn't leave me a lot of spare time, and I'm sure it won't be too long before I ask my school to reduce my timetable a little! I have around 3/4 lessons a day at Shiojiri Shigakukan SHS (out of 6), and I visit Shimosuwa Koyo SHS on Tuesday afternoons and Wednesdays, where I tend to have between 2/3 lessons. Life isn't so hectic there and I'm able to take a breather in the beautiful surroundings that the school is set in (granted, it's at the top of a steep hill, but it is surrounded by trees, including several cherry blossom trees which, at the moment, are a deep red colour and should look fantastic in April/May). I have FINALLY been granted permission to drive to Koyo (and my 3rd visit school, Kiso Special Education School, but as I'm writing this I haven't actually been there yet!), as this took ages to get. I have a story to tell about that, but I'll save it for some other time when I want to spout my anger at the Japanese education system.

My visits to Tokyo have provided me with so many memories, but I'll tell you about those another time - right now I'm off to bed.