Picture This…

Yes, I know…long time no post. I’ve been home in Australia for three and a half months now and paperdoll has taken a backseat to the adventures of resettling back into life here. I admit it…and I apologise. What can I say? I love being home and every time I sit down to write paperdoll I get distracted by…well…everything.

Having said that, lately the first signs I may be missing Japan have crept in (natsukashi)…it started with a craving for ramen…then there was an emotional reaction to a letter from one of my past students…and let’s not forget that living with my parents again has me pining for my 42m² Japanese apartment. Every. Single. Day.

Yes, I have begun to miss Japan and all of it’s crazy, quirky ways. But much like A Picture Says a Thousand Kanji, when I am missing Japan and need a fix, I can just picture this

Sleeping in Japan

Japanese student letter

English signage in Japan

Japanese dessert

Stretching

Dashboard

Takeout menu

Japanese antenna

Japanese fashion

Japanese Kit KatsEnglish sign in Japan

Japanese laundry

English in Japan

Japanese Hello Kitty Mask

Japanese shredder

Japanese Aquarium sign

Japanese glitter suits

Japanese Pepsi flavour

Japaese toilet paper

Japanese Clothing Engrish

Japanese fashion

Funny English in Japan

Japanese Architecture Osaka

Japanese Beauty Products

Japanese giant vegetables

Japanese sign

Train etiquette in Japan

Japanese gift explanation

Japanese fashion

Japanese trinkets

Japanese fashion

English textbook Japan

Japanese ice cream

Japanese toilet slippers

English in Japan

Japanese fashion

Japanese signage

Japanese cars

English in Japan

English in Japan

English in Japan

Japanese fashion

Japanese beauty products

Japanese toilets

The Good, The Bad and The Aussie…

In case you didn’t hear me shouting the news from the rooftops, I finally got off that island (Japan). I escaped from the bubble. I jumped ship. I got the truck out of dodge. After three years of life as an ALT (Assistant Language Teacher), I hitched a flight home to Australia and those people who had begun to forget they’re my family. Some of you might be wondering what will happen to paperdoll now that I’m back? Surely without 400+ junior high school kids and the perils of culture shock to contend with every day, I mustn’t have much to write about now? I beg to differ…

I’ve only been back in Australia a month, but I’m already experiencing reverse culture shock after living abroad for six years (yes, there were another three years in the UK too…my addition skills aren’t that bad). So you see I’m home…but I feel like a foreigner in my own country. Even my family can’t believe I’m back for good and I swear my mother keeps pinching herself every time she sees me (which is a lot…since I’m living with my parents again…but that’ll be a whole other blog entry).

Right now, Japan and the UK are my most recent reference points for home and Australia is this strange land I am getting reacquainted with. As I get resettled, I will continue to write about my aventures in Japan (I still have so much to say about it all) and these new experiences of reverse culture shock…or as I’m now calling it…the good, the bad and the Aussie

The Good…

My family.

It’s the end of April…mid Autumn, with winter coming…and it’s around 25°C every day. Forget hellish Japanese winters!

NO MORE SQUAT TOILETS.

Squat_toilet_Japan_culture_shock

The Bad…

Green tea in Australia sucks. Period.

Red lights actually mean stop, not three-more-people-can-make-it-through-the-intersection-still.

No road cones to feed my weird addiction…

The Aussie…

People wave acknowledgements of kindness from their cars instead of bowing or flashing their hazard lights.

I can say spesh, noice, netty, chook, suss, arvo, sanga, Maccas, cuppa and all other manner of Aussie slang and be understood.

Meat pies.

The Good…

The earth doesn’t shake every day…or…well…ever.

I don’t have to eat rice.

I now work for myself and I love it (WARNING: imminent, shameless self promotion: threefold.com.au)

The Bad…

Australia stinks…literally. After living in Japan I can’t handle strong fragrances anymore.

The speed limit is actually the speed limit.

NO ORIGAMI PAPER.

koala2

The Aussie…

Everyone is up for a chat…the postman, the checkout chick and the pizza guy…

Men. With the ability to grow facial hair. With muscles. With height. With masculinity. Enough said.

Tim Tams, Vegemite, Caramello Koalas…nomnomnom…

The Good…

Anonymity. Sweet anonymity.

One word…organic.

I keep reaching for XL size clothing in stores…only to remember I’m not a giant in this country.

The Bad…

I can feel my Japanese ability leaching out of my brain with every English conversation I have.

Small showers.

No fan club of adoring teenage kids to stroke my ego every day.

The Aussie…

Competitive sport.

Fresh, un(less?)polluted air.

Thongs are things people wear on their feet and there aren’t many Kiwis, Americans or Brits around to refute the point.

The Good…

I can enjoy a restaurant meal without having cigarette smoke billowing in my face.

I don’t have to carry a wad of cash around in my wallet (though the card charges from my first night out in Australia might make this a moot point…).

I sleep on a bed…not the ground.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The Bad…

No rainbow of KitKat flavours…though this might in fact be a good thing…

My Converse addiction will cost me double than what it did in Japan.

No amusing Engrish.

kinkakuji toilet sign

The Aussie…

Triple J music.

The Hills Hoist in the back yard…which virtually snap dries my clothing immediately.

This…

Who Cares if They’re Naughty or Nice?

Three weeks before Christmas, I initiated an ‘English Christmas Challenge’ for my students. The concept was simple…if they wrote me a Christmas story or letter in English, I would write them a reply and give them a small present in return. The only rules were that they had to write a minimum of three sentences and they could only receive two presents…any letters after that were purely for the joy of corresponding with me in English (ha).

Two days and 20 letters into the challenge, the teachers started calling me ‘Santa’ as I wandered the halls giving out presents from my Christmas stocking (it’s all about the theatrics…not the hundred yen gifts). With a total of 434 students, I started to wonder…had I bitten off more than I could chew? Come the end of semester, was I going to end up with carpal tunnel from hours of writing replies? Would I be rocking myself in the fetal position having nightmares about the 2nd year boys trying to pillage my stocking?!

I came to realise that children can be bought (quite cheaply apparently) and by the end of the challenge I had received 164 letters in total. I had been Santa to these kids and received letters from all kinds of students. From the ones who can write English in their sleep to the ones who still can’t spell their own names after three years of study. From the kid who never opens his English textbook in class, to the cute little 1st year girl who writes to me every week. The letters and the students who wrote them were many and varied, but in the end I realised… who cares if they’re naughty or nice? As long as they use English…

There were the cute letters with declarations of adoration and love…

There were the comments/pictures regarding my appearance…

There were letters about music (good and bad)…

There were the students channeling Yoda into their writing…

There were the sweet talkers (who were clearly only in it for one thing)…

Then there were the unexpected presents. Some cute…

And some not so cute (a picture of Arashi and a scrunchie)…

And some just weird…like ear buds these pellets that expanded in water?!

There were the letters to make me laugh…

There were the letters containing Engrish…

Oh and then there were the letters from the Gods…

And lastly, there were the hand made Christmas cards from my special needs students…

The experience was possibly more entertaining for me than the students but nonetheless, it got them reading, writing, listening and speaking English more than they would on a usual day.

While I am secretly glad I don’t have 20+ students writing to me every day, I was happy to receive these cards in the mail over winter break and know that at least some of the kids will continue writing for the joy of an English exchange with me…even now that the presents have dried up and Santa has retired…

Still, Only in Japan…

…are VPL (Visible Panty Lines) acceptable in public…or at all.

…are Lilo & Stitch actually popular.

…are snowmen made of only two parts and not three.

Japanese Snowman

…are people only considered sick if they have a fever.

…are you expected to fully wash yourself before getting into a bath.

…are aprons a fashion statement for housewives.

Still, only in Japan…

…does sock glue need to exist.

Girl's gotta have sock glue...

…do shop assistants yell ‘irashaimase’ (welcome) at you repeatedly throughout the duration of your time in their store.

…do elementary school children raise their hand in the air to cross the road.

…does using your hazard lights give you the ability to break any traffic law without penalty.

The hazards of driving in Japan

…do most houses not have an oven.

…do construction workers warm up before starting work with a stretching routine that resembles the YMCA.

…do people’s car dashboards look like a Disney Store shopfront.

Shoe horn?

Still, only in Japan…

…is playing the pokies/slot machines deemed an enjoyable pastime for people under retirement age.

…is it considered rude not to slurp your noodles/soup/tea/any edible substance.

…is Christmas celebrated with KFC and sponge cake.

KFC Christmas

is dancing illegal.

…is there an irrational fear of bugs.

…is a 2.4km race referred to as a ‘marathon’.

Still, only in Japan…

…can peanuts appear on the school lunch menu at least once a month without a student going into anaphylactic shock or their parents suing the school.

…can a person face jail time if a stranger drinking in the same bar as them gets behind the wheel of his car and breaks the law.

…can you make a sport out of sumo and geisha spotting.

Sumo spotting

Geisha stalking

…can I step out of my front door, walk 100 metres in any direction and find a vending machine.

…can trying to heat your apartment become a game of Russian roulette.

…can you find cleaning products sold in gift sets.

Cleaning gift pack? Oh, yes please!

Still, only in Japan…

…will people send New Years cards, as opposed to Christmas cards.

…will you find people own cars bigger than their apartments.

Giant car

…will the movie title ‘This Means War’ be changed to ‘Black & White’.

…will a cars be given names like ‘moco’…which means ‘booger’ in Spanish.

…will you see teenage boys being more openly affectionate with each other than dating couples.

Still, only in Japan are there so many cultural quirks that I could write this threequel to ‘Only in Japan’ and ‘Again, Only in Japan’

Ode to Yuji

Yuji, the baseball player, with bat and glove,

The fifteen year old boy, who adorned me in love.

Yuji, school life just isn’t the same,

With you in Kyushu playing the game.

Yuji, I wonder, how are you today?

In the south of Japan, so far away.

Yuji, six months, since you left my life,

Are you cheeky as ever, causing all kinds of strife?

Yuji, I’m left, incomplete and in pain,

Without you here, to drive me insane.

Yuji, to me, you played a large part,

The only J-boy, to capture my heart.

Yuji, the others, they try to be you,

Kazuki, Ryuji and the senseis too.

Yuji, the others, they fail to be,

Your replacement, they aren’t, it’s plain to see.

Yuji, these days, no love comes my way,

No smile, no message, no sweet words you say.

Yuji, have you moved on, and left me for dead?

Those advances you made, just words you said?

Yuji, since you seem to have cast me aside,

Is there another, along for the ride?

Yuji, who is it now, you give your love to?

Some teen, a groupie…or worse, tell me true!

Yuji, what English are you learning these days?

On who are you honing your lover boy ways?

Yuji, be honest, tell me, who’s your ALT now?

Have you replaced me with some other foreign cow?!

Yuji, why bother, she’s no me, I’ll bet,

Not rolling her eyes, nor playing hard to get.

Yuji, she won’t be a challenge for you,

You need the chase, you know you do!

Yuji, forget her, this other ALT,

Get on a shink and come back to me!

Yuji, our history, please don’t forget,

Don’t let this end, in a poem of regret.

Yuji, I’m sorry, I treated you so bad.

No, that’s not true, I’m actually glad.

Yuji, you loved it, no need for lies here,

So please just come back, so we can be near.

Yuji, you’re gone, but I want you back,

My days at Omiya-chu, your love they lack.

Yuji, I miss those games we played,

Oh how I wish, you could have stayed.

Yuji, I wait for your return to me,

While you’re off playing baseball, a star to be.

Yuji, when you’re a man (and baseball pro),

Look me up in Australia, I’ll be ready to go…

A Pain in the Proverbial…

It’s no secret that Japan is littered with examples of misappropriated English…or Engrish, as we foreigners like to call it. The bane of an English teacher’s life in Japan, Engrish is everywhere…on clothing, in restaurant menus, on stationery…and most frequently…on toilet signage.

In all of those instances I can grit my teeth, take a photo and present it on facebook or Paperdoll (remember A Picture is Worth a Thousand Kanji?!) for the amusement of people all over the world. But when the mistakes appear repeatedly and right under my nose at school, it becomes a real pain in the proverbial

It seems that the teachers and students forget that they have a native English speaker at their disposal to consult in matters like these, before ‘going to press’. But this is Japan and the stubborn mistakes will persist…and besides, sometimes they get it right…in more ways than one…

Backchat…

Last week was the first week back at school after summer break…and a lengthy six weeks off. After the freedom of such a leisurely lifestyle, the start of school was probably more dreaded by ALTs than students (who pretty much still have to go to school every day  in that time). When school went back, Facebook became the soapbox from which ALTs could moan about the misery of hot classrooms, hours of sports day practice and early starts once again.

I on the other hand (surprisingly), was pretty excited about my first week back at school. I had actually missed the kids (well…not all of them) and was looking forward to catching up with my teachers after my ‘Soba Up‘ experience. With all this anticipation I must have been exuding some good vibes, because in my first week back, I have been rewarded with some interesting and amusing back chat both in and out of school…

First day, first lesson back…

Me: ‘How was your summer vacation?’

Student: ‘It was great!’

Me: ‘What did you do?’

Student: ‘I did sex!’

In the teachers’ room…

Me (in Japanese): ‘Excuse me, T Sensei? (who I haven’t spoken to since my bike had a puncture two months ago) I have a favour to ask you…’

T Sensei: ‘Yes, what is it?’

Me: ‘Well, umm, it seems as though my bike has a puncture again…and well…you look really busy…but I was just wondering…if you could…maybe…?’

T Sensei: Shaking his head and laughing, ‘You want me to fix it again?’

Me: ‘Yes, I’m really sorry! You don’t have to do it now, just whenever you have time is ok.’

K Sensei (who was listening in to the entire exchange decides to offer his two sents worth in English): ‘Carla Sensei, no problem!’ Pointing to T Sensei, ‘Professional!!!’ Laughing.

T Sensei: Gives K Sensei a death stare and immediately goes and fixes the puncture on my bike.

I felt so bad about T Sensei that I left this ‘thank you’ present on his desk the next day…

At the grocery store after school, a little old man sidles up next to me as I’m bagging my groceries…

LOM: ‘Konnichiwa!‘ Smiling broadly at me.

Me: ‘Konnichiwa’ Smiling back.

LOM: ‘Chikaku (Do you live nearby)?’

Me: ‘Hai, chikaku ni sunde imasu (Yes, I live nearby).’

LOM: ‘Aparto (In an apartment)?’

Me: ‘Hai, aparto desu (Yes, in an apartment).’

LOM: ‘Sayonara!’ Walks away smiling.

In class with my third year students…

O Sensei: ‘Ms.Carla, what did you do during summer vacation?’

Me: ‘I went to Morioka and did the Wanko Soba Challenge. I ate 60 bowls of soba.’

36 students simultaneously move their eyes from my face to my stomach.

At the teachers’ drinking party with the second year social science teacher (who may have a slight thing for me)…

SS Sensei: ‘If I could take you on a date, first we’d go for a walk in the park. Then we’d go and eat spaghetti. Then I’d take you to karaoke and sing ‘Karma, karma, karma, karma, karma, c’mooooooon Caaaaaarlaaaa.’

Lunch with Class 3-1…sitting next to Ayumi…

Ayumi: ‘Summer vacation. Australia.’

Me: ‘You went to Australia in summer vacation?’

Ayumi: ‘Yes, yes!’ Screwing up her face, ‘Hamburger, on, red vegetable…NO LIKE!!!’

Me: Giggling, ‘Ahh, you don’t like beetroot?!’

Ayumi: ‘Yes, yes! NO LIKE!!!’

In the third year hallway between classes…

Female Student: Pointing to male student, ‘Up, up!’

Me: ‘What? He got taller over summer?’

Female Student: Looking disgusted, ‘Noooooooo! Dick up!’

On the sports field practicing for sports day with Kazuki…

Kazuki: Grinning upon seeing me, ‘Ms.Carla, Ms.Carla!!!’

Me: ‘Hi, Kazuki!’

Kazuki: Looking very excited and gesturing a lasso above his head, ‘Ms.Carla. Cowboy game, c’mon!’ Dragging me out to the middle of the sports field.

Me: ‘Ok, Kazuki…teach me. What do I do?’

Kazuki: ‘Ball, guruguru’ Repeating his lasso gesture with a rope and ball in hand, ‘Hit!’ Pointing to a road cone sitting on a desk about four metres away.

I complete the task, knocking the cone off the desk on my first attempt. I turn around to be greeted to applause from the entire second grade…they had been watching the whole time.

At the teachers’ drinking party…schmoozing with the big guys…

Sports Sensei: ‘Carla, you’re drinking red wine tonight?’

Me: ‘Well, I was drinking beer, but now I’m drinking red wine. I prefer red wine.’

Vice Principal: ‘Yes, Carla is a strong drinker!’

During English class with 3-4…

Me: ‘Yudai, you have to write your name in English on your worksheet.’

Yudai: Gives me a blank look (Yudai is a jock and a low level student who is notorious for distracting the whole class).

Me: ‘Kengo, can you please show Yudai how to write his name in English?’

Kengo: ‘Sure!’ Writes ‘Youdie’ and grins at me proudly.

It’s now the second week back at school and as the heat continues I hope this back chat does too…

Tennis Mafia & Taiko

That’s right OC followers…it has almost been a month since I left the safety of Australia to embark on this Japanese life…and let me tell you, the last week has been very eventful! From my induction into ‘Tennis Club Mafia’ to my first Japanese Karaoke experience, every day has been an adventure…

Things started quietly on Monday with a normal school day and ongoing introduction lessons as I continue to plough my way through the first 14 classes. In an effort to stave off boredom in the teachers’ room and show the kids I have an active interest in them I also made the somewhat rash decision to make name tags for the students…all 400 plus of them. My JTEs (Japanese Teachers of English) were fairly surprised and pleased to discover I could read Hiragana (one of the Japanese syllabic systems) and that I was willing to translate into English for the kids. A week later I have finished 1st and 2nd years…hmm.

In a bid to win over my main JTE, Masuda Sensei…and some of the kids, I signed up to join in with tennis club on Tuesday afternoon (as Masuda Sensei is the tennis club coach for the boys team). Again, not really thinking things through, I forgot that the boys and girls are separated and that in fact I wouldn’t get to talk to Masuda Sensei at all! Despite that, it was a gorgeous day and I had a blast. I haven’t played tennis in SO long though and I have certainly never played ‘soft’ tennis on a dirt court, so it was a very new experience.

The girls seemed to enjoy having me there (they particularly liked my praise…’great smash’) but my biggest fan was Isono Sensei…the tennis club coach for the girls. She thinks I am a star on court and as such I somehow agreed to buy a racquet and play against her on a regular basis! She is a pretty cool teacher…I reckon if I was 15 years older and Japanese I would be a lot like her. I think she suffers from my competitive streak so the games could get interesting. So yes, I am now a member of the ‘Tennis Club Mafia’. Hopefully this won’t dent my plans to get to some other clubs like kendo, art, volleyball and table tennis in the near future.

The rest of the school week was spent befriending the teachers as classes were light on due to exams. I think the teachers are realising one by one that I have an honest love of Japanese culture and that I am willing to embrace it and try everything at least once! I had a conversation with Shiba Sensei and I told him I was wanting to sit the Japanese proficiency exam…the next day he came in bearing a gift of Japanese sweet biscuits for me! My street cred also improves every day that I eat the school lunch too…with chopsticks. The teachers have developed a keen respect for me as I scoff down everything served up to me…when half the time they don’t even know what it is we are eating!

Friday night brought with it a chance to let off some steam and try my hand at Taiko…Japanese drumming. Those that know me well know that I can’t play any musical instrument to save my life. So understandably I went into the class with some trepidation…trying to channel some Dave Grohl, circa Nirvana days. Much to my surprise and delight I have more rhythm than I give myself credit for and had great fun thumping the life out of the big drums with the other ALTs in the area.


Sadly my school week extended to Saturday as it was parent’s day at Omiya Junior High School. I should have seen it as an omen when I awoke to snow outside…this was not going to be a good day. Silvy (my trusty nana bike) and I trudged off to school in the snow and after feeling returned to my extremities I was informed that I would be participating in a demonstration English class for the parents. Now this in itself was a terrifying thought only two weeks into this teaching gig. Now add to the equation that the lesson was to be with the 1st year students who can barely speak any English. Compounded with the fact that the 1st year JTE is fresh out of university and is even more scared of being up in front of those kids than what I am, it was bound to be an ordeal.

I was told by Kurosawa Sensei five minutes before the lesson that we would be teaching phonics (a-a-ant, b-b-ball for those of you playing at home). Not too scary a thought…until you find yourself trying to describe the sound for ‘x’ with ‘box’ as your sample word…in front of 34 terrified children and the watchful eyes of their parents at the back of the classroom! Kurosawa Sensei and I battled through and I made a mad dash for the teachers’ room as soon as class was over to hang my head in shame. From now on I am reading the textbooks at least five lessons in advance…just in case.

After the torment of PTA day I got to relish in social activities with my favourite English speaking ALT counterparts. First up was dinner and karaoke in Mito to celebrate Sam’s birthday…oh what fun! Considering that before I moved here I abhorred the thought of karaoke, my first Japanese experience of the sport (yes, after Saturday night, I consider it a sport) was unreal! Perhaps it was the awesomely bad film clips that accompany the tunes or the freedom of belting out tacky 80’s numbers at the top of your lungs in a small smokey room with 11 others? Whatever the reason, we left Mito in the wee hours of the morning with sore throats but feeling very satisfied indeed.

Last night was a little more sedate as past and present Hitachiomiya ALTs gathered to farewell one of it’s own, Lisa…who is off on another adventure in China. Another trip to Mito for Izakaya (all you can eat/drink) but thankfully an early night after the Karaoke antics on Saturday!

I wrapped up my weekend today by road tripping with JJ to a nearby shrine and scoping out the local gym. I use the term ‘gym’ loosely here as it is probably twice the size of my shoebox (apartment) and feels more like somebody’s home set up in their garage. To counteract the claustrophobia I felt afterwards I went for a run out of town amongst the rice paddies…