Monday, September 27, 2004

Games and weirdos

I went to the Tokyo Game Show this weekend. The Video Game Show that is, not Takeshi's Castle. We were going to go on the overnight bus, but it was full so we had to get the Shinkansen (Bullet train) instead, which was a tiny bit more expensive. Well, actually, a lot more expensive, ie 125 quid return, but hey, you have to go on it at least once don't you? The trains are absolutely amazing - they're on time TO THE SECOND. It's unbelieveable. The bullet trains are incredibly fast too, but they're so quiet you'd hardly know you were moving. Plus the stewardesses and ticket inspectors bow every time they come in and out of the carriage, whilst saying "Shitserei shimasu" ("Pardon me for being rude"), then when the train stops they all come out onto the platform to see you off. I really can't see the trade unions in England standing for that.

The game show was nerd heaven - not only were there loads of pre-release games on free play, there were some of the most stunning women I have ever seen. It seems games companies in Japan have hit on the perfect strategy for attracting young males to their stands - they simply surround their little corner of the exhibition with jaw-droppingly beautiful models dressed in the skimpiest/dirtiest outfits known to man. Generally the formula for these women is as follows - the duller the product you're trying to sell, the more women you employ to drape themselves over it. This explains why the "booth babes" on the Capcom stand were relatively fully clothed and few in number, whilst Taito employed an army of hotpant-clad porn-vixens to sell its shoddy line up of titles. You can tell Microsoft are struggling a bit in Japan, since out of the babe hordes encircling their stand some were down to just a bikini. Special mention must go to the women flogging Need for Speed Underground 2 on the EA stand though. They managed to keep a small army of male photographers entertained for the entire weekend by draping themselves over a sports car, which quickly earned them the affectionate nickname "dirty filthy car-rubbing sluts".

Amongst the women there were actually some games at the show too. For those of you who know or care, the PSP (Playstation Portable) was out in full force, with a launch line up of about 22 games. It's an absolutely gorgeous machine - I'm sure it's going to sell millions. The games were a little ropey though - generally the graphics were fantastic, almost PS2 quality, but none of them particularly stood out, and most were only about 50% finished; a little worrying if the console is going to be launched in December. Resident Evil 4 on the Gamecube looked absolutely stunning, and Sega had a great line up too - particularly Sega Superstars for the Eye Toy. It features about 12 games using Sega characters, and they're all fab. I had a go on the House of the Dead game and a particularly embarrassing video of me exists punching imaginary zombies with a big grin on my face.

Lastly, I have to tell you about cosplay. Cosplay is short for "costume play" - basically there are a lot of fanatical Japanese game and anime fans, mostly women, who love coming to shows like these dressed as their favourite characters, then they stand around all day in designated corridors letting people take pictures of them. Yes, it's very strange. But some of the costumes have had so much time spent on them it's hard not to be impressed, especially seeing some of the crazy outfits from Final Fantasy. Most of the costumes were from animes I've never heard of, but there were several Chun Li's from Street Fighter and a couple of Marios, not to mention a Japanese Neo from The Matrix. By far the most disturbing costume of the day was Cammy from Street Fighter - it didn't take us long to realise that the person inside that bottom-revealing leotard was no woman. He was no spring chicken either. The sight of him bending over to stub out his fag has been permanently burned onto my retinas.

Anyway, it was a smashing weekend, but I can see why people who come to Japan just to see Tokyo and the game show get such a weird view of the Japanese. Thankfully the men don't all go out in nothing but a one-piece and camoflauge paint. Well, at least they don't admit to it....

Jill from Resident Evil. Posted by Hello

The PSP girls. Posted by Hello

Yes, that's right, I bet you never knew Neo was Japanese. Posted by Hello

I've no idea who this guy is supposed to be, but when I approached he shouted "PINCH CLAW!", and struck this pose. Posted by Hello

The best game of the show. It translates as: "HEAVEN! Boys love attack! Let's get some more!" Posted by Hello

You can just make out Ben's excited grin as he points at the "dirty car-rubbing slut".  Posted by Hello

Look! It's the cast of Final Fantasy X! Posted by Hello

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

The Rapids of Death

To my eternal shame, I chickened out of going white water rafting at the very last minute - I've never been so scared in my entire life as when I looked at that water. Still, it meant I could get lots of photos of everyone else making a fool of themselves, which you can enjoy below. I also got to dress up in a rather slinky wetsuit for the shower climbing on Sunday, which was a real treat.

(By the way, shower climbing means climbing up waterfalls - not climbing out of a shower)

Adam prepares to enter the terrifying rapids of death. Posted by Hello

I'm so glad I decided not to get on one of these boats. Posted by Hello

The raging torrents. Posted by Hello

Matt decided it would be safest to sleep in the road. Posted by Hello

Ruan strikes a pose before the shower climbing. Posted by Hello

The Famous Five. Minus the dog. Posted by Hello

Laura goes a bit "Vietnam". Posted by Hello

Saturday, September 18, 2004

Shake it like a Polaroid picture

I'm pretty much snowed under with work at the moment, but I'm enjoying being busy, and the lessons I'm doing are loads of fun. All this week I've been introducing myself to the students, which means that I have to go into each class and do a talk about myself. You'd be amazed at the amount of people who have no idea what the UK is, or what continent it's on... Anyway, it' s been fun - I've been playing my guitar and telling them about ultimate frisbee and all sorts. I have to tell you about today's class though, it was hilarious.

There are some gestures that have quite different meanings in Japan - for example, when we want to talk about ourselves in England we point a finger at our chest, but in Japan they point a finger at their nose. Which does look rather comical the first time you see it. Anyway, the students were asking me questions at the end of my class today, and I noticed that some of the kids at the back were waving their little fingers at me. I immediately ckecked my flies. No, it was OK, the boys were in the barracks. What exactly were these kids trying to say? Were they implying that my member was somewhat short of adequate? Then the Japanese teacher came to my rescue: "They're asking if you have a girlfriend."

It turns out that waving your little finger means "do you have a girlfriend?", whilst giving a thumbs up means " do you have a boyfriend?". The moral of this story is that if you knock over someone's pint in a Japanese bar, DO NOT give him the thumbs up.

Another cultural highlight was the story one of the other ALTs told me last night. Her students wrote an essay explaining what their "dream for the future" was, and one of them said she wanted to be a beautician. However, when it came to writing "I have practiced putting make up on my family and friends" she made a slight error. This is what she wrote:

"I have fingered my friends and my mother\'s face".

I'm not quite sure what kind of beauty parlour she intends to run, but it sounds like it may be worth a visit.

I had my first tea ceremony class last night. Yes, that's right, I'm going to tea ceremony classes. I figured that there may be more to the world of tea than sugary cups of PG Tips, and lo, my eyes have been opened! If you don't know anything about Japanese tea ceremony it's basically a very long, formal and complicated way of making and drinking green tea. Everything in the ceremony has a specific function and strict way it should be performed, from picking up the tea cup to stirring the tea. My first thought was "What's wrong with tea bags?", but actually taking part in the tea ceremony was very relaxing - almost like a form of meditation. The movements are so graceful they're sort of mesmerising.

I also attended my first calligraphy class on Wednesday, which was great. The teacher is unbelieveably good - there's a lot more to it than you'd think. The paint brushes are exquisite - there are various types, made of everything from horse tail to weasel hair. Actually writing the characters is bloody hard - everything has to be done in one fluid movement whilst holding the brush dead straight, and some lines require delicate flicks at the end. After an hour I'd just about managed to write my name!

I\'m going whitewater rafting this weekend. God knows why I signed up for it, it seemed like a good idea at the time... Anyway, I'll email again next week if I get back in one piece!

Saturday, September 11, 2004

So it begins...

I survived the recent typhoon thankfully - it was a pretty nasty one as it turns out. Luckily in Fukui we managed to avoid the worst of it, but in Hiroshima they recorded record winds of 216 kph, and five ships were sunk, along with lots of other damage.

I`m more worried about the insects though. The grasshoppers are more terrifying than the bird-like moths. Thing is, they look exactly like twigs until you walk up to them, when they suddenly leap across your path making the most terrible racket. Scared the shit out of me the first time.

Anyway, I`ve just had my first lesson, so now I`m officially a teacher, along with everyone else from the sounds of your emails. It was a good laugh - I had to do a self-introduction, so I explained to them about the United Kingdom and how it`s made up of four countries. They
were mystified. Here they just call Britain "Igirisu", which means England, and they`re amazed by the existence of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Much to the annoyance of Paul and Kate, our two resident Scottish JETs.

I think I lost the class a bit when I started banging on about London, but then I got my guitar out and sang them a bit of Green Day, which went down well. Then I put on my fantastic spangly navy jacket (as seen at the goodbye party) and explained how I bought it in Covent Garden, along with postcards and diagrams. The jacket went down a treat, as did "Can`t stand me now" by The Libertines - I can`t wait to educate them all about English music!

I bought the new Libertines album on Wednesday - get in. I also found a fantastic second hand shop and spent a joyous afternoon buying all the CDs I never quite got round to buying when I was 16, for dirt cheap prices. Anyone remember Geneva? Silver Sun? Dubstar? Gene? Bis? The Wannadies? All classic bands lost in the midst of time. Or the bowels of Japanese second hand shops anyway. I also discovered that Shampoo released four albums here. Those crazy Japanese...

I`ve got my first office party (or enkai) tonight. Everyone automatically pays about 20 quid from their pay packets into the enkai fund every month, and then it gets spent on massive nights out for the whole office. Could be a bit dangerous... I`ll let you know if I embarrass myself.

PS. I managed to get away with not wearing a tracksuit on sports day, but I ended up getting horribly sunburnt and now I have a mark across my forehead where I was wearing a bandana in my team colours. Highly embarrassing I can assure you.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

The insects are attacking!

I saw a butterfly the size of a bird earlier - kidding, this thing was so big it was gliding! The insects here are insane, they`re just too big to be real. Some of the dragonflies look like they`re from Jurassic Park.

I`ve just been told that I have to buy a tracksuit to wear to sports day tomorrow. I`m not too keen on the idea. Apparently everyone will wear one, even the headmaster, so it`s mandatory. I haven`t worn a tracksuit since I was about seven!

Earthquakes and drama

Yes ladies and gentlemen, I had my first experience of an earthquake last night! It was really confusing at first - my windows started rattling and I couldn`t work out why because it wasn`t windy. Then I noticed that my TV was swaying and I finally twigged as to what was going on. But before I stopped wondering if I should dive underneath a desk or start preparing an emergency packed lunch it had stopped.

The quake hit at about 7pm here and was located about 70km off the southern coast of Japan and even caused a small tsunami of about 50cm. It was quite big, measuring 6.8 on the Richter scale, but didn`t cause much damage because it was so far out to sea, and in Fukui we barely felt it. There was also a second earthquake which happened at midnight - it`s bad enough being woken up in the middle of the night, but especially confusing when you can`t work out why the room`s spinning though you haven`t had anything to drink. This one was bigger than the first, at 7.4, but it felt about the same.

All very exciting, I can assure you! I also got hit by my first typhoon last week. It`s typhoon season here so there`s been about one a week hitting the far southern coast of Japan, but No 16 was the first to actually come across the mainland and hit Fukui since I`ve been here. Luckily because Fukui is surrounded by mountains they dissipated much of the storm`s force, but I was still kept awake all night by wind and rain. I also got to experience the phenomenon of tiny red vans whizzing about the streets with sirens on, warning people that a typhoon is coming. Now I just need to see a volcano and a tsunami and I`ve got the natural disaster set! Actually, there was a small eruption in a prefecture to the west of here last week, but it didn`t require any evacuations - just dumped a whole load of volcanic ash all over the local crops, much to the annoyance of the farmers.

In other Lewis related Japan news I appeared in the teacher`s play this morning as part of the school festival - a highly embarrassing experience. I`ve been practicing every night after school this week, but in the end the teachers I was acting with just ad libbed their parts, which left me a little confused, seeing as I had no idea what they were saying. This led to me coming in at the wrong part with all my lines, much to the amusement of the audience! So, a shambles, but a good laugh all the same. The play is a farce set in the eighteenth century, so they decided I should play a European merchant. So I explained that in the eighteenth century English people wore collars called ruffs made out of lace. Unfortunately I think the costume department got the wrong end of the stick and I ended up wearing a giant cardboard collar painted with bright pink and yellow stripes. Still, it looked great...