One of the best things about living in Miyazaki is that it quite often feels more like California or Hawaii than Japan, with its palm trees, mangoes, laid-back people and surfing. We met borrowed boards and wet suits from a friend and went to Aoshima Beach early one morning.
When I told one of my favourite teachers about a beach trip last week, he said cheekily "Were you wearing... bikinis?! Maybe I should come too. Please tell me your next surfing plan." I laughed and told him about our day at a gorge that week, upon which he said "So... did you also wear... bikinis?" At this another favourite (female) teacher burst into giggles and exclaimed "Sekuhara sekuhara!" (the phrase for 'sexual harassment' here).
The difference between the UK in attitude towards this kind of interaction is pretty marked. Back home, such familiar comments in the workplace would be unacceptable and most likely reflected in writing. But, as with so many things in Japan, it seems that implicit social and gender expectations determine what's appropriate at work to a greater extent (interesting article on what goes said and unsaid in Japan here). And I've got to say, in general, attitudes towards sexual harassment and sexism in the workplace leave a lot to be desired.
However, I've never once felt uncomfortable with this teacher, who in fact has been one of the kindest, most selfless friends I've made here. I was surprised at what he said, and can see how some people might be offended by it, but I just wasn't. In this case, I know he really was 'just joking'. While I'm well aware of the dark side of this kind of banter (and how 'just joking' is used as an excuse for serious harassment), it's been interesting to me to encounter this different kind of professional and social environment.
|Birthday parties and intoxicated new Japanese friends abounded last month|
One of the best nights was an aloha-themed surprise birthday party for Nate, followed by salsa dancing into the early hours.
We continued celebrating Nate at dinner the next week with shows of muscle bravado, raw chicken nibbles (local delicacy) and tears at the letters he wrote everyone!
|As the rainy season came to an end, Miyazaki started to feel truly tropical again|
I had a cocktail party the Friday before my birthday, as the rain thundered down outside. I've borrowed a few pictures off friends since I was too busy hostessing all night
Jo managed to snaffle a bottle of Pimms on her trip home so we set about recreating the great British summer with mint, lemonade, and gin-soaked cucumbers.
I love these pictures so much! I'm in heaven when my house is full of my favourite people.
While the girls busted moves to Ignition and made way too much noise for 1am in a teachers' building. Sorry we're not sorry.
Sorry for partyin.
Unfortunately the mess had to just wait for a couple of days, since bright and early the next morning we were off to the shrine for a long day of taiko practice. It was time for our festival!
Nerves started to kick in.
My friend Luke made an amazing two part film about the festival and our performance, you can watch them here and here!
It was a great day and so fun spending more time with the group. It's been very nice for me to spend time with this group of mixed ages - these older women remind me of the great aunts and numerous second cousins etc I grew up surrounded by. In some ways, it's easier to form a connection without speaking much. You have to skip from the small talk straight to some kind of mutual understanding, achieved more through eye contact, laughter and paying close attention to each other than words.
Over the course of the day I was really struck by how naturally the different generations interacted and how the whole community was brought together. From ripped young guys to little old ladies and everyone in between, they were all in it together. Everyone from toddlers to teenage boys confidently greeted each other with "Good morning!" and "Hello", instead of mumbling sheepishly like we do too often back home.
In general in Japan, alienation between the generations seems to be a lot less of an issue. Old people seem pretty active in the community (I'm going to miss the legions sprightly, slightly scary old women cycling everywhere and bouncing around at festivals). Sometimes I think it might be to do with the stricter hierarchy. Even if your group leader is your friend and peer, you still call them senpai as a mark of respect for their mentoring. At our taiko farewell party, the head of the group scolded one of the 20-something women for talking during his speech, in front of everyone. And it wasn't really a big deal, because of that social structure accepted by everyone. Perhaps having that structure and that underlying respect as a given provides a kind of framework that lets the different generations relate to each other more freely.
The performance went pretty well! Our friend Satoko came backstage with flowers for us.
The talent at the festival was unbelievable. You know how at school there was always one or two kids who were crazy good at music or sport or painting? Well, at my school here it seems like just about every kid is that good at something, and it's because they practice for hours every single day. The festival - just a small regional festival - was no different. I saw a tiny six year old boy the size of my leg, smaller than his own drum, perform an insane solo, his little arms tense and sweat rolling off his body, never once missing a complex beat in a routine I could only listen to open-mouthed. And when it was done, everyone just walked off like it was no big deal and he rolled his drum off the stage with the rest of them. The kids I've met here are a lot more innocent than their peers in my hometown, but a lot more is expected of them in terms of effort and respect, and they mostly live up to those expectations.
And it wasn't just the kids. Taiko is when the Japanese really let rip and watching the instructors drum and scream from a lunge stance practically touching the floor, totally absorbed in the moment, was completely mesmerising.
Once the small forest of bamboo decorations had been cleared from the back entrance, we loaded up our drums and stood in our circle to officially bring the evening to a close. Another aspect of socialising in Japan I rather like - each event has a marked opening and ending - most often by standing in a circle and clapping once together. In our group's case, Jessica had just taught them the word 'blood', so we stood around saying 'blood' over and over for a while. ALT life.
The next day was spent chilling in the park and jamming in the concert hall's studio rooms with the boys and the talented Mika!
On my birthday I went to Tomato Ramen with a bunch of friends and played some silly games. Jessica's clues (above) were not the most helpful.
Hana also got me the best cake ever - covered in chocolate macarons with an alpaca on it!
It was a lovely chill birthday.
One day to my surprise I found myself on the cover of our junior high school's prospectus for the year! Given the amount of rules on student anonymity and identity protection, and all the permissions we have to receive to take pictures in school, I was kind of surprised to be photographed without my knowledge, let alone to appear on the cover of a publication with a snooty look on my face! But, as with so many other things here, I just went with the flow (wa) and moved on.
I was kind of sad not to enjoy the annual Wimbledon fever, but the time difference made the final just too late on a Sunday night. A lot of the students here adore Mr Federer as they call him, but a few were rooting for Murray!
The following weekend I headed to Miyazaki City for the presentation of our leaving certificates and a very boozy leaving party. The only evidence that remains is our recovery breakfast the next morning.
We headed to Heiwadai Park in Miyazaki to chill for the day. These figures reminded me so much of a Ghibli movie. Looks like we caught them at a bad moment. We wandered round here and a wee gallery, plus a monument that seems to have started out an imperialist symbol and ended up a Peace Tower. Potato, potahto.
This old lady was a masterclass in self-promotion as she told us so many times that her hotdogs were oishii that we believed her regardless of the taste.
We spent the rest of the afternoon being rowdy gaijin and playing ultimate frisbee, making human pyramids, and losing items in the lake of carp and turtles. When that happened a nice old guy came over with his fishing net and helped Julian, handy man extraordinaire, fashion a retrieval device! This was the moment of victory! The wee obachan in the background makes my day.
My new favourite game involves ninja moves and balletic poses ^^
Annica and her interesting sun-shield head dress. This is why I love her.
Meanwhile Hanako took the alpaca love to a new extreme... and we found out what our baby would look like. We're only adults 40% of the time.
In a slightly more grown up moment, we celebrated Christine's upcoming wedding (she is now a married woman!) with a surprise bridal breakfast. It was so lovely to bring together her friends from all over the world - and her reaction was priceless.