Sunday, 20 March 2016

さよなら。いいえ - またね (Goodbye. No - See you later)

So not much to report for our last few months in Japan as we've been here so long we think we've pretty much seen everything there is that we want to see. But then a couple of  surprise trips prove us wrong.

Mazda museum

The Mazda museum is situated in the heart the 7km wide site that makes up the Mazda factory in Hiroshima. Every day there is an English tour that throws some interesting facts up and allows outsiders to gasp at the enormity of the company's manufacturing presence here. A few of the facts we learned were that the founder was killed on his 75th birthday by the dropping of the Hiroshima atomic bomb. Mazda started off in Hiroshima making corks. There are 51 firefighters employed on the site which measures 7km across. This huge site has its own power plant generating 70% of it's own energy, a university and has a 1.4km long production line that can churn out 4000 cars a day. It's a great tour which jogs along at a fair pace giving glimpses of huge ships, private ports and bridges, spotless assembly processes, robots, examples of past achievements and visions of tomorrow. And, to cap it off, its free.

Our only visitor

About 3 years ago we met a guy in Cambodia and had a couple of days in the same hotel with him so had a few meals together. A year later, we were on a bus in the Malaysian highlands where we ran into one another again and so spent the day walking the hills together. Rachel, the sociable one of us, has kept in touch and he took us up on our offer to come visit. So we have had a very pleasant week showing off our city (it feels like ours) to someone. It has been really nice doing so and we realise just how proud we are of the hills, shrines, seas and buildings that make up Hiroshima. After kitting him out with an assortment of clothes that he could keep when he left us and continued his travels, we took him walking to Mitake temple and hills behind, to the fantastic island of Miyajima with its stunning achitecture, lovely walks and incomparable views, on a shirine and historic tour of the city and wanderings through the shops and houses. We fed him, watered him and believe he left us with that feeling of there being something special about this lovely country.

Last days at schools

Rachel's first words as she came in from her last day at kindergarten sort of captured her feelings quiet succinctly and gives the reader an idea of how fondly she felt about teaching these small humans ...."Thank fuck for that - I never thought i would make it - wheres the wine?" OK, neither of us work many hours and still we earn enough to have a pretty good life here but It's been a difficult year for her in terms of work satisfaction and the sense of isolation that she has felt at the school. I work there for a few hours a week and it is definitely a case of lasting out since the teachers are busy with their own thing and are not keen to give time to English teachers to do their thing. In her specific English classes its a bit better but not enough to instil her with a sense of achievement. We found a diary entry a few days ago that was written about 10 months ago. It read along the lines of 'Arrghhhhh! What have i done. She has hid it pretty well though and i have only had to talk her off the ledge a couple of times. Conversely I have had a lovely time, enjoyed my time with the little people and had lots of supportive westerners and articulate Japanese folk to laugh with.
But then we never doubted i would enjoy this type of employment more, even if they actually learn more with Rachel. Still as the pros and cons list showed the weight of my enjoyment, having a good flat, earning great money and making excellent friends of Lee and Tohru outweighed the trivial negatives of isolation, desperation, feeling of ineptitude, uncertain of targets wanted and if they are met, boredom and working in a school set in the mindset of 1920's Japan.

Skiing with Tohru then Tom

Not much to say really. I went skiing with Tohru. We used a couple of the discount tickets I had bought at a ski show and, because he hasn't got a car with 4 wheel drive or winter tyres (tyres with a chunky tread that the Japanese put on their cars in the winter months). He hired a car that he drove much like a rally driver. Sliding on the un-treated roads of 4 inch thick snow and sludge. When younger i might have been a little thrilled but at 54 i was just a little scared. Still, skiing was good and slopes were empty again. A couple of weeks later I skied with Tom - A guy from the Y and drove up in his car, Much more sedate and my sphincter arrived at the slopes without any undue stress. Stress that quickly disappeared as Tom is a pretty manic skier who proved difficult to match for speed, ability and balls. Another great day but what a difference skiing on the weekend proved to be with hoards of people all queueing for the lifts (yes queueing - This isn't Europe. Here you form very orderly single file lines that snake around the areas in front of the lifts using disneyesque style movable barriers). Another distinctly Japanese thing is that they don't optimise the seating capacity of the lifts. 6 man lift - queue of 100 people - 2 or 3 people on each set of seats. Tom was told its because there is less chance of people hurting themselves when queueing and since the Japanese are a reasonably servile bunch its a technique used to reduce the numbers on the slopes. Try that one in France???!!

Show time!

We had the end of year stage show and graduation last week. For months on end the little ones have been fervently practicing dance routines and songs, sharpening up their Pachebel cannons in some minor key or other, fitting costumes and learning to perform to various functions such as sitting, standing, clapping etc to the notes of a piano. This show is a spectacular par excellence with easily 2 months of work going into the 3 hour event that is witnessed by sobbing proud mums in twinsets and pearls and encouraging fathers with camcorders who look like they would rather be working. Each child gets at least 3 opportunities to embarrass themselves or shine brightly depending on their talent and ability to follow instructions. Some do it perfectly and are, well, perfect. Others perform not quite so well and these are probably more perfect because thats what kids do. They make mistakes and this, in my view, makes for a much more entertaining show.


We have found this rather brilliant Sushi train restaurant about 3 kilometers from our home. We first found it with Jamie during our 'Introduction to Japanese food tour of Hiroshima'. Since then we have been back a couple of times and had a thoroughly good time on both occasions. Why? It's buzzy, technical, futuristic, the food is good and its cheap with each dish being a 100 yen. It follows the normal format of dishes coming past your seat (in this case cubicle) on a conveyor belt. This however has the added attraction of a special orders conveyor belt that brings your food to your table and a plate dispenser that gives you a 1 in 5 chance of winning a toy (if thats what grabs your fancy).

Selling stuff

Step right up folks coz everything is for sale. All of our possessions are up for grabs and our adverts in the local Get Hiroshima paper and website has brought in good results. We only have a few of our smaller items to sell now since one buyer (a family coming from England) bought 90% of our things and even paid 30% deposit for us to hold it until she starts to take it all away - starting tomorrow. Fantastic. Others in the same situation have all said how difficult it was with people letting them down and things having to be sold for next to nothing. Certainly we have lost money on the new stuff we bought but on balance not that much. We have also sold our lovely little car. We had hoped to get much more for it than we did but ultimately we got 10,000 yen more than we paid and we drove it for a year. OK we had to pay for parking and 70,000 for a new shaken (mot and compulsory insurance) but what a boon its been to have. Certainly the car made living here so much more fun.

And so with only a few days left we are just about all wrapped up. Just tying up odds and ends and getting last meals in - one of which was with Lee and Tohru at a fantastic fairy land style shrine in the mountains where we drank beer, ate chickens on big sticks and wandered around the magical setting in the pouring rain.

We have sorted paperwork, rid our self of clothes, stored other things and arranged transfer of charity donations we have raised to the Nepal school we are headed for (more on that on the next blog). We are leaving Japan with less possessions than we arrived with and about 10,000 quid more that we somehow managed to save - Thats a mystery that i really cant figure out.

Thank you and goodnight

As we go. How do we feel? About going we are very excited but about leaving, now thats another thing. Japan gets under your skin and to this day we are still a little unsure as to why. In fact, I am so unsure i am going to let Rachel finish this and see if she is more focussed on it than me... Chris signing off

Erm, where to begin...or finish even. Japan has been a most amazing experience and rather like moving home; it's sad leaving what you know, the comforts and security, but then you have the excitement of something new and shiny and unknown to look forward to. Unfortunately after 18 months we are still not conversant in Japanese, damned difficult language, and we still cannot quite understand the psyche of these charming people and why they do what they do. They are a good looking race and very concerned with appearances, dare i say almost to the point of being shallow. They are gentle and peaceful, hate confrontation and we have very rarely heard a Japanese person raise their voice. The flip side is what happens to the negative emotions when things don't go how you want them to, or you're not treated fairly? Japan does apparently have one of the highest suicide rates in the world so maybe holding it all in is not such a good thing. But on the surface they appear happy, healthy, with great community spirit and customer service that is second to none we have encountered. We have been made to feel welcome and they always very proudly ask if we are enjoying Japan... and the answer is yes but its time to move on. The itchy feet need scratching and there's a shit load of the world still to see. And although I have been working Chris has already alluded to the fact that it wasn't the most inspirational job so we are going to feed our souls and give of our time and knowledge in Nepal in a remote village. But you'll have to wait for the next blog to hear how that went.
Sayonara Japan and Namaste Nepal.