Monday, 11 August 2014

Japanese Musings VIII: The Joys of Internationalisation

world-map osawano

This week’s post is a little late due to me spending all last week travelling around the Republic of Ireland. It was my fourth visit to the Republic, a country that I like more and more with each trip. Thanks to the hospitality of Lenin, (see ‘Across Asia With A Lowlander’), then I managed to have a drink in Dublin and see the awesome Neolithic sites at Bru na Boinne as well as the mystical Hill of Tara and the fascinating monastery of Clonmacnoise.
newgrangebrubainne Newgrange at Bru na Boinne

tara-aerial-2004 The Hill of Tara

clonmacnoise2 Clonmacnoise

Then it was a train trip over to the west where I met up with Paul, (my companion from the Armenian expedition), camping on the spectacular Achill Island and then a tough climb up Ireland’s holy mountain, Croagh Patrick, (my calves can still feel it!). All done now and back to work and so hopefully, postings should start becoming a little more regular.
achill_head_from_minauan Achill Island

croagh patrick Ascending Croagh Patrick

Keep travelling!
Uncle Travelling Matt


Links to all the Japanese Musings:

Series 1

Japanese Musings I: Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes

Japanese Musings II: O-ha!!!

Japanese Musings III: The Thin Blue Line

Japanese Musings IV: Nihon no Shokyu

Japanese Musings V: The Sporting Life

Japanese Musings VI: A Bad Day

Japanese Musings VII: Time, time, time…

Japanese Musings VIII: The Joys of Internationalisation

Japanese Musings IX: Meri Kurisumasu!

Japanese Musings X: It’s Cold Outside!

Japanese Musings XI: Moomins and Mydo Cardo

Japanese Musings XII: Engrish

Japanese Musings XIII: Valentine’s Day

Series 2

Japanese Musings 2.1: Arrival: Tokyo

Japanese Musings 2.2: Arrival: Inaka

Japanese Musings 2.3: Riding the Kamioka-sen

Japanese Musings 2.4: Onsen

Japanese Musings VIII: The Joys of Internationalisation
The subject for this weeks musings regards the side of my job which they don't really tell you about before you hit the town. I thought that I was coming here as a teacher. This is of course partially true, but not entirely, for it seems that the town ALTs, (the city ALTs are a different matter entirely), also are expected to perform the role of some unofficial ambassador. Now of course where they are ambassador for is not precisely stated, and indeed there seems to be much confusion on this matter, though it seems to roughly translate to being anywhere that speaks English. This is ok and perhaps understandable, though I must confess that I am getting fed up of being mistaken for an American.
"So how is beer in America?" I am asked.
"I wouldn't know," one replies, "since I've never been there, nor do I have any inclination whatsoever to go. But, judging by the stuff they export, I should guess that its pretty crap."
This is met with puzzled looks. "But you speak English?!"
"Yes, indeed I do, that is because I am English, that is the language we speak, in fact that is where that fine tongue originated from. You see, I am a citizen of the European Union, 'Europa' in Japanese, and Europe is not, I'm afraid, America. Ask me about Rotterdam, Edinburgh, Athens or Barcelona, maybe I can help. Ask about sheep farming in the Lake District [we did that one in geography see] and I am your man, but on Thanksgiving celebrations, I am sorry but I must draw a blank. I would even go so far as to say that I know more about energy production in Japan [another geography gem] than the good old US of A."
On the whole though, it is not so bad and some townsfolk even know about England, though their perceptions seem rather coloured by their experiences of group travel.
"Please Matto-sensei, I make invitation that you can come my house at exactly three pm."
"Why, thank you."
"Because I make Afternoon Tea with scones and I know that every English person eat this at three."
"Right, and from where did you learn that little cultural titbit?"
"Ah yes, we make a vacation to England before three years, and everyday the coach is stop at tearoom and we have Afternoon Tea."
"I see, and did you perchance happen to stop in a place called Broadway, or perhaps Bourton-on-the-Water for the Afternoon Tea, en route to Stratford to see Shakespeare's house?"
"Yes, exactly this was the place. They say is typical English village."
But, I jest. On the whole I really do enjoy my new career as the Official Ambassador of Englishdom. For a start, I get to write a little piece in the town paper every month, talking about my experiences in Osawano. My predecessor warned me about this beforehand. "Don't criticise anything in Japan" were his sage words, "they won't print it!" It seems that one of his articles, discussing discipline within the school, (well to be more exact, the abject lack of discipline within the school), was refused. I read the piece and whilst it was mildly controversial, and indeed may have raised a few eyebrows back home, ("And what right has a bloody foreigner got to criticise our education system?" thunders the local Tory councillor in a strongly-worded letter to the 'Times and Echo'), it wasn't altogether that bad.
But I digress. So staying away from controversial subjects, I then decided to make my little pieces are incredibly cheesy as possible. One extolled the virtues of karaoke, another talked about how marvellous Royal Families are, (though should they ever be got rid of, I suggested Paul McCartney as a good candidate for British President and Katori Shingo (exceptionally cheesy singer) for Japan). I discuss red telephone boxes, the Beatles and of course Afternoon Tea. What's more they love it!! I have lost count of the number of times people have come up to me and complimented me on what are in my opinion, ( and a valid opinion since I wrote them), exceptionally bad articles. This month's topic is cooking and in particular Roast Beef and Yorkshire Puddings. I await the response.
But my Ambassador role does not stop there. Far from it. Two weeks ago I had to show a Malaysian girl around who was on an exchange from the Lions Club International. "You're the first person that I met here that speaks English" commented Ms. Choing Chang.
"Really!" I replied, "that does surprise me!"
japan lions club Ms. Choing Chang checking out the Osawano Statue Park

The best part however is dealing with the Osawano International Circle.
The Osawano International Circle is run by a Mr Sugibaiashi who is retired. In fact all of it's members are retired, except one who is a housewife. It is in essence a group who likes to practice their English and talk to foreigners, and it is also one of the nicest groups of people whom one could expect to meet. I say practice their English, but that is not entirely true, since they don't have a lot of English to practice with, but they try hard, I try to speak some Japanese and together we communicate.
japan cooking class2 Osawano Cooking Class (Mr. Sugibaiashi is second from the left)

Earlier in the month they held a Cooking Class where two Russian girls and a Chinese lady cooked dishes from their home countries. I was the guest of honour, and we all had a real good laugh. "Thank you for inviting me" I told our hostess.
"No problem," replieth she with a twinkle in her eye, "because next time you is teacher. We make scones!"
"But I can't cook!" I protested.
"Of course you can," retorted she, "I know because I read Osawano Town Paper. You write 'I cook scones every day to eat with my Afternoon Tea'!"
Talk about digging your own grave! I'm off to the library now for a recipe book....

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