David Chart's Japan Diary

February 21st 2004

This week has been quite good, even though it didn't involve much beyond school stuff. The school stuff was a bit non-standard though, and for the last few days the weather has been absolutely glorious; warm and sunny enough to count as a good summer's day in the UK. The work on the flats is finally over completely, so I've taken the opportunity to wash and air my bedding. This revealed mildew -- the four weeks when I was having serious skin problems and had a fever was, apparently, not the best time to be unable to wash and air sheets and futons. (There is no way I can dry or air the bedding inside the flat; there is simply nowhere to hang them. Even clothes washing was rather awkward.) I've done what I can today, and tomorrow I'll look into buying some anti-mildew stuff when I do my shopping.

My skin is not clearing up. At all, basically. I'm trying various things to keep it in check, but putting hydrocortisone cream all over my body is not really an option. I might have to go back to the doctor soon, but I'll try a few other things first. The real problem will arise if it's connected to the change in the water in my flat. The timing wasn't quite right, though, and my hands, which are exposed most to the water, seem to be the least affected part of my body. I would rather not go through the hassle of moving... Anyway, I'm suffering from the edges of an exhaustion headache today, which is not a good sign, since I've not had any late nights for a week or so.

On to the good stuff. Wednesday was a big class test. This counts as good stuff because I felt that it went fairly well. Not perfectly, as there was at least one question where I simply didn't remember the relevant grammar, so that will be a failure. But better than last time. After the test, we had two slightly unconventional lessons. In the first, we learned a Japanese song, which involved picking out the words by listening to it first, which is good practice.

In the second, we cut out paper to make little banners. It was like being back in primary school. These banners were for encouraging Rachel, our class representative, in the speech contest on Friday. We practised our cheering a bit, and then practised again on Friday because Sakai-sensei wanted to see what we were going to do.

Yesterday, of course, was the speech contest itself. This is one of fhe big annual events at the school, and this year it was held in Okazaki Civic Center (or, in Japanese, Okazaki Shibikku Sentaa), as none of the school's buildings are big enough. The hall there was a proper concert hall, which certainly made a good setting.

All the students were in place for a 9:30am start, and there were also a few people from Okazaki, including Masumi, who comes to the exchange group on Mondays and teaches English. I knew she was planning to come, but I didn't speak to her until the interval.

The ceremony opened with a welcome from the chairman (I think) of the Hattori Foundation, the body that backs, and owns, Yamasa. Then it was on to the speeches. Every class, from A class to M class, had a representative giving a four to six minute speech. The Japanese quality obviously varied. According to Masumi, the A class representative's speech could have been given by a Japanese high school student, while M class's speech was given by someone who has been studying Japanese since the beginning of January. The grammar was a bit limited, but he made very good use of what he did know.

Rachel speaking Rachel, our class representative, beginning her speech at the contest.

The order of the speeches was, I think, determined randomly, and Rachel was seventh. That meant that her speech was the last one before the break, and it was very good. She talked about the odd English used in Japan, and the odd Japanese used in England. Unfortunately, I had no photographic evidence of the jeans saying 'Beef Soup' in kanji that one of Ray's grandchildren (can't remember which one...) was wearing a couple of years ago, so that couldn't go in. Still, the shirt that said 'I will apologise' was quite amusing enough. People laughed a lot, and almost the whole audience seemed to understand what was going on, which was good. Obviously, the amusing English had to be translated back into Japanese to explain why it was funny.

After the break, there were six more speeches, and then a bit of entertainment. A group who played 'taishougoto' (I think, as it was a new word for me, and thus I may have misremembered), which sound quite a lot like koto but are smaller. They played traditional Japanese tunes, like the Do-Re-Mi song from the Sound of Music. This also involved the compere asking people in the audience about the instruments and whether they played anything, as she tried to spin it out long enough to cover the time the judges spent making their decisions.

Rachel receiving her prize Rachel receives her prize for giving the best speech of the day.

There were three sets of judges. One set was made up of some of the teachers, and that was the main group. The second set was made up of all the students, each of whom got to vote for one speech. The final set was made up of three external dignitaries, who awarded two special prizes. The first two sets were simply rewarding the best speech. The external dignitaries were able to reward on whatever criteria they wanted.

The prizes were very satisfying for C class, as Rachel won both the first prize from the teachers and the student choice prize. She had to make a very short thank you speech, at which point she was on the verge of tears.

One of the external dignitary prizes went to the representative of M class, and that was a very popular decision. I think there was a general feeling that he'd done an incredibly good job given that he'd only been studying Japanese for about seven weeks, and that giving a speech, in Japanese, in front of a large (about 200 people) audience including several Japanese people, took a lot of courage.

Still, Rachel actually won, which was great. Afterwards, I had lunch with her and Hang, at a little ramen place literally just round the corner from my flat. It was good and inexpensive, too, so I think I'll be going back there more than once in the future.

After that, I went for a walk down to Okazaki Minami Kouen (South Park), and did some reading and stuff. The side effects of my skin problems made me disinclined to do serious work, and probably incapable of doing it well. Today has been taken up with laundry and reading, so a normal Saturday.