Random Notes & a (reasonably) brief apology!

To those people (all four of them), who emailed in response to my last post, I’d like to offer an apology. It was never my intention to promote smoking: It’s  a lethal and expensive addiction. Full disclosure (a friend whose opinion I respect felt that I was being less than honest and suggested I do this); until seven years years ago I smoked a “pack-a-day” for long time. Mea culpa! Her contention was that, because I had a previous history as a smoker, I was probably more inclined to “accept” second hand smoke than a lifetime non-smoker. In this, she is no doubt correct.

The point I was trying to make though (possibly a little too forcefully), was that in Japan smoking doesn’t seem to be such a polarizing issue. At an enkai (staff party) in a restaurant, smokers will simply retire to an anteroom for a smoke before rejoining the party. People who find the smell offensive probably don’t patronize pubs where people smoke. The government insofar as I can see, seems to have some confidence that citizens will behave responsibly and does not appear to be that interested in overly regulating their lives. They certainly don’t send younger people into pubs to spy on their fellow citizens (as they have been known to do in British Columbia).  This attitude seems to manifest itself in far more ways than merely with regard to smoking. Beer is widely sold from vending machines on the street but I have yet to hear any stories of underage drinking or drunken driving as a result. Going to a pub or bar can be as informal as popping by a friend’s rec room. Free food is served casually, there does not appear to be an enforced closing time and, to a greater extent than I’ve noticed elsewhere, the “regulars” seem to share a convivial rapport with each other. Young teens join their parents, nosh on snacks and have soft drinks. Japan is not a “nanny state”.


Our Grade Three classes graduated last week and the ceremony was more moving than I’d anticipated. Although Japanese ceremonies are not noted for brevity, and this was no exception, the singing was beautiful and more than a few of the students were weeping. I liked the grade three students a lot and will miss them. Fortunately I have a copy of the new student yearbook to remember them by. At about $50. cdn, it seems a little expensive until you see it. Printed on high-quality glossy stock, it’s slip-cased with exclusively color photographs and very little text. The slip-case cover has the caption “SCHOOL LIFE: I never look at this album without being reminded of my happy school days.” Oddly enough; a sentiment I can agree with. The cover of the book itself says “Graduation: memory has been shining in your heart forever”. I’m a little less certain about that, but it’s sweet nonetheless. I’ll always treasure the book in any case.

Even though there are no classes scheduled for the next week or so and the students are on holiday, that doesn’t mean they are not at school. Although the “atmosphere” is a little more relaxed, the school “clubs” continue to function and membership in them is compulsory. Senseis and ALTs are expected to put in a full school day. There’s not really much for an ALT to do though, so I usually spend this time at my desk learning Japanese. I thought about this a little (but not too much) on Friday at Minami Junior High, as I stepped outside the building at about 9:00 am to watch the baseball club practice. It was by far the nicest day of this year with light breezes, temperatures in the mid-twenties and a cloudless sky. Spring has always been my favorite season, but I have never more looked forward to it than this year. Going through their drills, the baseball and soccer teams looked good: really digging in, hustling & lookin’ pretty snappy. Not at all bad for 12 and 13 year old kids I thought. The sun felt pretty good and I’d been watching for almost an hour before I remembered my iPod was in my pocket. It seemed a waste not to listen, so I popped on the “Stone Roses” and ambled around to the back of the school to watch the tennis club. As I cued up “Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds” on the iPod, I noticed the tennis club wasn’t doing too badly either. If you’ve played tennis at all you know it is not an easy game to learn. With most sports a decent athlete can acquit her/himself reasonably well with a little rudimentary instruction. Not so with tennis: Unless you put in the prerequisite practice, you will be a “bum” regardless of your inherent  athletic proclivities. That may be why they play “soft” tennis in Japan, with a rubber ball that slows the game down a bit. It doesn’t take much away from the sport though: it’s still highly competitive and fun to watch. I mused on this as I sought out “Let England Shake” by P.J. Harvey and continued my stroll around the perimeter of the school. On the far side of the school the gym door was wide open: The gym was divided in half by a net with the girls basketball club playing on one side and the table tennis club playing on the other. As expected, the basketball team looked pretty good as they went through their drills. I love table tennis and I’m reasonably good at it but, because club activities are pretty highly structured, I knew there was little chance I’d pick up a game. I watched them play for a while and then completed my circle of the school while listening to Queens of the Stone Age.

Fellow ALT Nathan showed up around this time: He was running quite late because he had a few work-related things to attend to in town and I was beginning to think he might not make it to school at all.  I was glad he did though because like myself, Nate is a huge and knowledgeable movie fan and I enjoy talking with him about film history.  We did a couple of leisurely laps around the school, chatting with students along the way. They had all just graduated so the prevailing mood was buoyant and friendly.

It was after 3:00 pm by this time and my bus (always punctual) passes the school at 3:27 pm. I retrieved my books from class, bid the customary farewell (osaki ni shitsurei shimas), and left to catch my bus. It’s a tough job: Someone has to do it.