David Chart's Japan Diary

November 9th 2003

Let's take the last week in order.

Last Saturday, I was originally planning to walk down to Okazaki Minami Kouen (South Park) with Amy, but Sharon called to tell us that there was a festival happening in Okazaki Kouen (Park), so we went there instead. We got the local train, on the Aikan line, and despite being a little local train well off the tourist circuit, it still had station announcements in English.

The Okazaki festival A general view of festival, looking across the river from the stage area.

This was the first time I had been to the park, and it's quite big. The festival was the Autumn Civic Festival, so it had stands from many local companies and groups, as well as a stage where there were various displays of taiko drumming and dancing of various kinds. The police and fire service were there, with small uniforms for children, who could then sit in a police car or point a fire hose. There was also a car that turned upside down in a frame. I',m not sure what it's normal purpose is, but the children going in it certainly seemed to be having fun. There was also a large tent on recycling and other environmentally friendly practices. These seem to be catching on in Japan, but shops still insist on multiply wrapping purchases.

The performances were interesting. I think modern Japanese activities seem more alien than traditional ones, because the traditional ones are 'typically Japanese'. The modern ones make it obvious that Japan is a very different culture, because they take elements of Japanese and western practices, and combine them in ways that are clearly not western, but also are no longer traditional Japan.

Okazaki Castle and shrine Okazaki Castle (to the left), and the torii in front of the shrine there.

The park does have some more traditional elements. It contains Okazaki Castle, which is where Tokugawa Ieyasu was born. Sort of, anyway -- the current castle was built of ferroconcrete in 1959. It looks fairly traditional as well. There is a Shinto shrine next to the castle, probably dedicated to Ieyasu, and there were weddings going on. So, it is possible to take very Japanese-looking photographs there. Walking round this part of the park made a nice contrast to the festival, and afterwards we walked back home rather than getting the train. That takes a bit more than half an hour, so it's possible, but really only on a nice day. Fortunately, Saturday was.

On Sunday, I did my laundry, and not a great deal else.

Monday was a public holiday, so there was no school, but there was the Halloween party. Unfortunately, the weather was absolutely dreadful, with pouring rain, and I had to walk over to Okazaki Civic Centre (just beyond school) in it. The bottoms of my trouser legs go completely soaked, and didn't dry out until some time on Tuesday. I didn't have a costume, so the organisers lent me a small pair of wings and horns. Some of the other foreigners who turned up had much better costumes...

The kindergarten children A group photo with the kindergarten children at the Halloween party.

As I said, the party was organised by English teachers, so we were expected to speak simple English to the children. The first party was for kindergarten children, so they were very small and very cute in their Halloween costumes. The games had to be extremely simple, and we didn't actually say much in English to them. We did dance the 'Hokey-Pokey', which was actually just a version of the Hokey-Cokey, despite what it sounds like. There was also a game in which they threw small cloth pumpkins at us. In principle they were supposed to be throwing them into larger plastic pumpkins on our heads, but with a maximum age of four this game really turned into 'throw pumpkins at the gaijin'.

The second party was for primary school children, who were slightly larger but approximately equally cute. We played slightly more complex games with them, including one where they had to answer a question in English. 'What is your name?' was fairly easy, but 'How old are you?' tended to elicit the response 'I'm fine thank you, how are you'. Apparently, 'old' wasn't that easy to hear.

Me, Yoshiki, and Anzu Me with Yoshiki (centre), the son of one of the teachers, and Anzu (right), the daughter of one of the teachers.

At the party, Yoshiki, the son of one of the teachers, decided that he really liked me. So much so that I spent much of the time with a six-year-old boy physically attached to me. During the parties he played with the other children, but in between he attached himself largely to me, and threatened to beat people up if they bullied me. I have absolutely no idea why he was so enthusiastic, or, indeed, whether he will still like me next time I see him.

School started again on Tuesday, and Thursday was our big test, so Tuesday and Wednesday were largely revision for it. The test itself seemed to go OK. The listening and speaking sections were as hard as I might have expected, but the grammar section seemed to go OK. I don't think I'm at serious risk of being moved down to F class, but I think that if I stay in C class next quarter, that will indicate that I have made quite a lot of progress.

Friday was a bit odd. There were mock exams for people taking levels 1 and 2 of the Japanese Language Proficiency test this December, and that covered all but three members of my class. So, in the morning there were only three of us. Thus, we couldn't do any new grammar. Instead, we were given a set of pictures illustrating a Japanese fairy story, and had to write a story to go with it, which we then read out, accompanied by the pictures. Apparently my version of Momotarou was slightly different from the original.

Yesterday I did nothing but some reading, and today I'm doing cleaning, washing, and bits of work, like this diary.

I think the expected emotional backlash hit this week. I didn't get homesick, or decide that I hated Japan, but I did get rather stressed. It seems to be getting better already, and I've done some more RPG writing, which helped. I have also finally received my permission to work, which is good, because I can get on properly with the various bits of paid freelancing I have to do. I'm also trying to organise my days better, so that I get everything done, and the result is that I have no free time during the week, and probably won't be checking my email on Tuesdays or Thursdays, as well as weekends.