Wednesday, December 22, 2004

MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERYONE!!!!

This is the last post I'll be doing for a while, since today is the last day of school, and I don't have internet access at home. I'm back on the 11th January, so until then I just want to say thanks for reading the rubbish I've been putting up here for the last couple of months, and have a very merry Christmas and an absolutely fantastic New Year!

MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERYONE!!!!!!

Love from Lewis and Santa. Posted by Hello

Guns and buns

Are you a fan of firearms? Can't get enough of guns? Then this is the publication for you!!!! Every week we bring you a guide to the latest and most efficient way of killing people. This week: the Kalishnikov. Famed for its robust construction and heavy firepower, the Kalishnikov has been the weapon of choice for people who like killing other people for decades. Now we go in depth to take a look behind the mystique of the gun they tried to ban. Featuring an interview with Mr. Kalishnikov himself!

PLUS! Here at Arms Magazine we've been conducting some exhaustive research into our readership, and we've discovered two important facts.

1) You like guns.

2) You like semi-naked women.

Therefore, we're proud to present to you...yes, that's right....A SEMI-NAKED WOMAN HOLDING A GUN!!!!

Can it get any better than this? You bet! Next issue, TWO semi-naked women holding a gun! Order from your newsagent NOW!!! Posted by Hello

The Umbrella Incident

My host mum popped into school to see me on Monday afternoon. Although I don't actually live with her, she acts as a sort of guide to life in Japan, and it was really cool to see her again. Plus she brought her granddaughter along, who is probably one of the cutest children I have ever seen in my life! Have a look at the photo below if you don't believe me - she's the kind of kid who makes you want to have kids of your own.

Anyway, Igarashi-san has invited me round for New Year's Eve, which I'm really looking forward too. It should be really interesting to spend New Year with a Japanese family. New Year is the equivalent of Christmas over here - it's when all the families get together and eat traditional food, then after the clock strikes midnight they all troop off to the local shrine and ring the bell, which brings luck for the next year. Should be fun! And a little more spiritual than the English tradition of going to the pub and drinking until you fall off your chair.

But the visit was tainted by disaster. When Igarashi-san went to leave she realised that her granddaughter's umbrella was missing. It had been taken by one of the students! Soon, the vice captain of the school police arrived and offered his apologies to Igarashi-san. The incident was deemed to have brought "shame on the school" and had "dishonoured an important guest".

So the vice captain and me drove around the town in the rain for the next hour, trying to find a child-sized yellow umbrella with "Kuma no Pooh-san" on it (Mr Pooh the Bear, or Winnie the Pooh to you and me). Kinoshita-sensei was looking out for students carrying yellow umbrellas, and I was checking all the local convenience stores and bus stops, in case anyone had left it there. Unfortunately, it was to no avail.

Then today, a grave appeal was made to the students to return the umbrella during the school's closing ceremony. I could only make out part of what was being said, but the awkward silence of the students said it all. One of the teachers was even crying because she was so shocked that a student had stolen a six-year-old's umbrella.

The massive wheels of Japanese school justice are in motion.

So if any of you have seen a yellow umbrella with Pooh-san on it, let me know. I shall keep you updated on the situation, as and when it changes.

Your faithful correspondent, Lewis Packwood.

My host mum, Igarashi Chieko, and her granddaughter, Igarashi Mitsuki (I hope I've spelt that right). Posted by Hello

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Look Out, Tree!

This is a strange old thing. On the road to Ota (the next town over from Asahi) there's this enormous tree right in the middle of the road. It's quite a bizarre thing to come across as you're making your way up a twisting mountain road. I'm presuming the tree has some sort of religious significance because of the little shrine underneath it, which is perhaps why they didn't cut it down when they built the road. Posted by Hello

This is a close up of the shrine. These little things are absolutely everywhere - you often see them at the side of the road, or in the woods. You don't often see them in the middle of the road though. Posted by Hello

I've just been told by one of the teachers that there used to be a railway track to the left of the tree, but it was removed about 30 years ago and the road was built there instead. The rail track was part of a failed attempt to connect Sabae with Echizen - in the end it was too difficult to build a railway through the mountains, so they gave up.

When they came to build a road, the original intention was to cut the tree down. However, so many workers became sick or got injured that they decided the tree was cursed, and its life was spared. None of the teachers are sure whether the shrine was put there before or after the incident though, but it seems likely that it was there before.

I also found out a little about these roadside shrines. The little statues are called "Ojizosama", and are representations of the Buddha. In the olden days people used to stop and pray when they walked past them, but this rarely happens now thanks to the rise of cars. Another example of the dilution of Japanese tradtions, which most people I speak to seem to be very worried about.

Carols for Oranges

I had a pretty strange experience this weekend. Adam and Nici thought it would be a good idea to get some JETs together and sing some Christmas carols, and they decided that the old folks' home in Ota would be an ideal place. I agreed to come along, and on Sunday eight of us drove up to the hundred yen shop (the equivalent of a pound shop, but cheaper) to buy tinsel and Santa hats, complete with frightening beards. Posted by Hello

We quickly decided the beards were a bad idea, but stuck with the hats and tinsel. Despite the fact that none of us had practiced any of the songs we were going to sing, we were ready to go.

The old folks' home took my breath away. And not just because of the heavy stench of antiseptic cream. These people were old. I mean really old. I know Japan has the longest life expectancy in the world, but nothing had prepared me for this. There was a sort of Christmas variety show going on as we arrived, but it was more like a rehearsal for The League of Gentlemen. Three women in wheelchairs, all wearing dressing gowns, were on the stage, each with a cartoon drawing of an animal stuck on a cardboard hat. Each woman was being moved into place by an orderly, but none of the women were moving or speaking, they were just sitting there. And they were old. I mean scarily old. I took a good long while to stare at them each in turn, just to make sure that they were actually alive. Then another woman, her spine bent nearly to the floor, walked onto the stage with a cardboard box strapped onto her back. The orderly helped her off with the box, which she then opened. Inside was a plastic snake which she waved around, to groans and laughs from the audience. Then it ended. And it was one of the strangest things I've ever seen.

Obviously, following a stage performance like that was going to be tricky, but I think we pulled it off. In fact, one woman was even crying during Silent Night, although I don't know whether or not that was because none of us could hit the high notes. Judging from the grins and applause coming from the audience though, I think we went down well, and it was a good feeling to bring them a little Christmas cheer. The manager even gave us a huge box of oranges as a present, which we didn't really feel we could accept (after all, we only sang four songs) but it would have been incredibly rude to turn it down, so we took it anyway.

I still can't get the image of those old people out of my head though. I used to help out in an old peoples' home when I was at school, so I'm used to seeing the elderly, but I've never seen people who are quite as ancient as that. Japan may have the longest life expectancy, but is it really worth it? Would you really want to end up in a home, barely able to move or speak, yet being wheeled around by an orderly in some bizarre stage play? The idea of "live fast, die young" is starting to sound more and more appealing. Perhaps I should buy myself a motorbike for Christmas.....
Posted by Hello

The happy caroling band after their electric performance. Left to right: Adele, Tom, Sarah, Adam (kneeling), Chris, Nici and Dave.

Asahi in Asahi

I just had to stick this photo up - this is the sun coming up behind my house in Asahi. I took this at about 7am last Saturday, after I gave Tilly and Laura a lift to the train station. Asahi literally means "morning sun", so I think this photo is rather appropriate. Posted by Hello

Monday, December 20, 2004

The Terrors of Echizen

Last Sunday I was invited by Chris to help look after some primary and junior high school kids in Echizen. The kids would be making mochi (rice which is pounded until it becomes rubbery), so we thought it would be a simple job to supervise them. Little did we know they would be killers, every one. Their seeming friendliness and overriding cuteness was only a thin veil, disguising the animal blood-lust that dwelt behind their eyes.  Posted by Hello

It all started happily enough, the children seeming excited about the presence of foreigners in their midst. Posted by Hello

We were a little concerned though, when the children started showing signs of unusual strength... Posted by Hello

Then it turned nasty. This little monster was the first to strike, dealing a near-fatal blow to young Mr. Mullineux. His cute, squeaky shoes had caused us to let our guard down..."A fatal mistake", Adam thought, as lightning fast ninja blows rained down on him. Posted by Hello

Dave struggled valiantly, flailing his mighty hands like powerful oars as the swarm of mochi-fuelled children bore down on us. Posted by Hello

But it was to no avail. Their sheer numbers soon overwhelmed us. This was the last time I saw poor Adam. Posted by Hello

Before I blacked out, I remember this terrifying face looming in front of me. His wild features and fierce fighting style marked him out as their leader. By the time consciousness slipped from me fear had taken over my mind, as I began wailing, again and again, "IT DIDN'T HAVE TO END LIKE THIS!!! It didn't have to end like this.........." Posted by Hello

The Art of Mochi Making

In amongst fighting with children, we actually had the chance to make some mochi whilst we were in Echizen. It was a lot of fun, but pounding the rice with that big wooden mallet was damn tiring - and the fact that I was hungover from Sam's birthday party didn't help either. Anyway, I now present a step by step guide to making mochi....First up, sticky boiled rice is put in a big wooden bowl and kneaded with these wooden things for a while. Posted by Hello

Despite what you may be thinking, I'm not trying to nail that old woman in the head with a mallet. The mallet is actually used to pound the rice together, until it gets to a sort of rubbery consistency. The young lady adds hot water between blows of the mallet to stop it sticking to the rice. Posted by Hello

Sam tries her hand at beating the crap out of rice. Posted by Hello

Everyone gets stuck in, no matter what the age. They even had special little mallets for the kids. Posted by Hello

The freshly pounded mochi is taken off to be made into snack-sized balls. Posted by Hello

And here it is, the finished product - mochi. Which has the exact taste and consistency of Play-Doh. Was it worth all the effort of pounding rice for hours? Hmmmmm...... Posted by Hello

The slightly more delicious fried mochi. I say "slightly more delicious" only because fried mochi actually tastes of something. Posted by Hello

Views of Echizen

Once we were done making mochi I thought I'd have a look around Echizen and take some photos. Echizen is a fishing village to the west of Asahi and over the mountains. It's very famous for it's crabs (in fact, if you look hard in the photo below you can spot an advert for seafood). To be honest, it's not the prettiest of towns, but it does have some great views of the sea. Posted by Hello

A little harbour in Echizen. Posted by Hello

This is a little shrine right on the coastline. To the right is a construction site, and to the left is an enormous sea wall. It just goes to show that you can find shrines absolutely everywhere. Posted by Hello

 Posted by Hello