Before a class with my first graders, one of the students was heartily singing ‘Do-Re-Mi’ in Japanese and because I LOVE The Sound of Music I sang along with her in English. It was very cute, the bairns applauded.
I don’t know how famous the film is in Japan, but nevertheless I discovered there is an anime version of The Sound of Music called トラップ一家物語(Trapp Family Story) because OF COURSE THERE IS.
Interestingly, the notes are slightly different as there is no ‘la’ or ‘ti’ in the Japanese alphabet, therefore la = ra, and ti = shi. So: do-re-mi-fa-so-ra-shi!
The translated Japanese lyrics are as follows:
‘Do’ is the ‘do’ of ‘doughnut’ ‘Re’ is the ‘re’ of ‘remon’ (lemon) ‘Mi’ is the ‘mi’ of ‘min-na’ (everyone) ‘Fa’ is the ‘fa’ of ‘faito’ (fight*) ‘So’ is the ‘so’ of ‘aoi sora’ (blue sky) ‘Ra’ is the ‘ra’ of ‘rappa’ (trumpet) ‘Shi’ is the ‘shi’ of ‘shiawasé’ (happy) Right, let’s sing!
(*‘Fight’ not as in literal fighting, don’t worry. “Fight!” is often used akin to “You can do it!”)
If you fancy having a go yourself, here’s the Japanese version:
DO wa DOONATSU no DO RE wa LEMON no RE MI wa minna no MI FA wa FAITO no FA SO wa aoi sora LA wa rappa no LA SHI wa shiawase yo Saa utai mashou
Are you preparing your life to be packed into two suitcases and need some advice on what to bring?
Here’s what I brought:
A few things to note:
You probably don’t need to bring as many clothes as I did if you’re a UK size 10-12 or below. You’ll likely be able to shop in most Japanese stores.
If you’re tall, note that a lot of Japanese arm and leg lengths in clothes are shorter than back home.
UNDERWEAR: Bring bras if you’re bigger than a B-cup otherwise you’ll struggle.
SHOES: I’m a UK size 5 in shoes which is pretty average back home, but here I’m at least an XL! Half-sizes are rare. You’ll be fine with Western brands like Adidas, Nike, Converse, Vans etc. but it’s something to keep in mind.
WORKWEAR: You’ll have to wear a suit at training and special events, but REAL TALK at a lot of schools you can dressing more business-casual like the rest of the teachers do, especially elementary schools and kindergartens. I can’t say however what your situation will be like – if in doubt, ask! I do plan on a longer blog post in the future about what an ALT generally wears.
If you forget anything – don’t worry. Online stores like ASOS ships to Japan for a very reasonable price, however if you need to send anything back it’s pretty pricey and you’ll need to pay out of pocket unless the item/s are defective.
4 pairs of jeans (2 black, 2 blue)
6 dresses (3 casual, 2 party, 1 formal)
4 pyjama pants
4 pyjama tops
Plenty of socks, hosiery and underwear.
4 bras (2 black, 1 white 1 nude)
1 pair heeled boots
3 pairs of trainers
3 pairs of flats
2 occasion bags
2 suit jackets (1 black, one grey)
3 white shirts
3 black smart-casual tops.
3 white smart-casual tops.
2 cardigans (1 baby pink, one grey)
6 pairs of smart trousers (3 black, 3 grey)
1 pair smart work shoes
1 pair indoor shoes (Black Sketchers)
Nintendo Switch and games
3DS and games
5 x international plugs
6 sticks of antiperspirant deodrant
2 boxes of tampons
Band aids/blister plasters
2 x USBs
Union Jack flag (For self-introduction lesson and English board)
£5 note (For self-introduction lesson)
Notebook and pen (For note-taking in training)
My teddy bear
Art prints to decorate apartment
Medication, pill boxes and doctor’s letter.
THINGS I’VE BOUGHT IN JAPAN
SIM card for my phone
Folding coffee table
Shelves for bathroom
Pots and pants
INHERITED FROM DEPARTING ALT
Bowls, plates and mugs (though I eventually bought my own)
Washing pole and pegs
Emergency kit for natural disasters
CAME WITH APARTMENT
2 hob burner
Table and 2 chairs
Smart TV on desk
Full length mirror
I think my biggest peice of advice is: try to stick to the essentials. While it’s tempting to want to bring all your home comforts with you, remember that Japanese apartments are much smaller than back home, and you’ll likely not know how much storage you have until you move in.
It’s also easy to accumulate stuff when you arrive here. And while of course you’ll want to make your place as cosy and homely as possible – remember that everything you can’t take back to your home country with you will have to be sold, donated, given away or carted off by the council (for a fee!) when you leave.
I have quite a unique situation at my elementary school, where instead of teaching with the homeroom teachers – there is a dedicated English teacher who comes with me to all my classes there and we team-teach together.
This is to the relief of many homeroom teachers who don’t feel confident teaching English, but I miss seeing most of them on a regular basis. However my co-teacher has assured me that there are still a few homeroom teachers who are particularly enthusiastic about English who have asked to watch or even join in.
One of these is a third grade teacher who sometimes come to our classes dressed as a crazy gaijin called George in a blonde wig and a sparkly, spinning bow tie.
My co-teacher advised: “We will shout “George!!” and George will appear!” When I asked what was the point to this endeavor? “I don’t know why.” Ahh, Japanter banter at it’s finest.
Of course all the teachers thought this was hilarious, in fact the other third grade teachers loved it so much they now also have gaijin personas – so from time to time we have guest spots from “Mr. Smith,” “Catherine” and “Lisa” who rock up in wigs, talk loudly and generally cause some mayhem.
Bad, baka gaijins!
Stuff like this comes from such a good, pure place but is also so unintentionally offensive.
I swear I’m on a hidden camera show sometimes. My life is straight out of a Shimura Ken skit. (Notably this one).
*Coincidentally, my dad is called George. He’s not blonde though. Miss you dad – love you!! ❤︎ ❤︎ ❤︎ ❤︎ ❤︎ ❤︎
As you maybe learned in school, haiku (俳句) are short Japanese poems – usually seventeen syllables (5, 7, 5) and a juxtaposition of two ideas, known as “kuru” (切る) or “cutting”. But as with most things, modern haiku (現代俳句 or gendai-haiku) can stray somewhat from the rules.
While I’ve been trying to journal, I’m now struggling to do so everyday. Which is a shame because when I first arrived I set aside time everyday to write. My writing project has also ground to a halt – the stress of everything that’s going on in the world right now and creative processes don’t necessarily mix well.
But I do love writing, and because they’re only short I’ve had a go at writing some of my own haiku. They range from the stupid to grisly and macabre – it shows how my brain is working at the moment I guess.
Just call me Carla Allen Poe. Nevermore and all that.
Anyway, maybe I’ll post the not-so-personal ones here. Like this one about my neighbourhood:
Ebitsuka Here in the quiet village of Shrimp Town I am but a simple prawn.
I already posted about it here, but just in case you missed it: Ebitsuka literally translates as Shrimp (エビ ebi) Burial Mound (塚 tsuka). A local told me it got the name because way back when, people used to catch shrimp in the river that runs through the area, remove the intestinal tract then throw the faeces into a giant heap. How nice.
He was very drunk at the time though, so take that story with a pinch of salt.
Pre-‘rona, me and Faith were sitting in a Filipino snack bar, enjoying some BBQ pork and beers while chatting to the owner when three drunk salaryman stumbled through the door and asked: “Are they hostesses?”
Nice to know I have a back-up plan in case this teaching lark goes tits-up.
Paris Syndrome is a condition that can affect disappointed first-time visitors to the French capital that almost exclusively effects Japanese tourists.
Seen as an extreme form of culture shock, symptoms can include: delusions, hallucinations, feelings of persecution, derealisation, depersonalisation, and anxiety, as well as physical ailments such as dizziness, tachycardia (intense, quickened heartbeats), sweating, and vomiting.
France – specifially Paris – is hyper-romanticised all over the world, but particularly in Japan it is viewed as the epicentre of sophistication. Whereas people expect to step into a Dior or Chanel ad or Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amélie Poulain, the reality is quite different.
Paris is as far away from Japanese culture as you can get:
French people are very physical when greeting with two cheek kisses, whereas Japanese people bow. In Japan the customer is king, in Paris tourists are treated with disdain and disgust by everyone from shopkeepers to hotel staff. Japanese streets are spotless (despite the annoying absence of bins) and Paris is covered in litter. Japanese public transport runs like clockwork and has a strict code of conduct – whereas the Paris metro system is hot, loud and crowded. Pickpocketing and muggings can be fairly common in certain areas – a stark contrast to the country with one of the lowest crime rates in the world.*
You can see how this would be intense for anyone – Hell, I consider myself fairly well-travelled but find Paris pretty dicey compared to a lot of major European cities. However even before Covid, there was a rapid decline of Japanese people travelling abroad for leisure, in fact a recent survey found under 50% of Japanese people in their 20s have never left the country.
So you can imagine the cultural shock can be pretty intense.
That being said, in reality the condition is very rare – out of the hundreds of thousands of Japanese people who visit Paris every year, only approximately 0.0012% are affected.
*I’m kind of biased in this post as I’ve visited Paris a few times and honestly I don’t really care for it that much. Go to Barcelona, Brussels, Prague or Budapest instead, huns. 😉
During one of the ten minute breaks between classes before my final period of the day at my elementary school, a tannoy announcement from the principal advised that a monkey had been seen on the loose in the area.
The bairns were told not to approach it if you see it, or go looking for it. So of course on the way home, everyone went looking for it.
Most prefectures and cities have their own mascot, known as yuru-chara (ゆるキャラ) that generally represents what the place is well-known for.
Arguably the most famous ゆるキャラ is Kumamon, the bear mascot of Kumamoto Prefecture. You can find him on merchandise everywhere in the country, and he is instantly recognisable by everyone. He’s also worth a fortune – in 2019 sales of goods bearing his confused but cheerful face topped 150 billion yen ($1.4 billion).
In Hamamatsu, we don’t have such an international icon as our representative, but we do have Ieyasu-kun and Naotora-chan.
You see them EVERYWHERE from the sides of buses to the teacher’s business cards at my schools. There’s a giant effigy of Ieyasu-kun at the train station and is a popular meeting point.
Ieyasu-kun is named after Tokugawa Ieyasu, a war lord who spent 17 years at Hamamatsu Castle between 1569 and 1586.
The top of his hakama is green and blue – green to symbolise the beautiful forestry and agriculture in the surrounding areas, and blue for Lake Hamanako, the Tenryu River and the Enshu Coast. There are piano keys on his hakama skirt, because Hamamatsu is known as ‘the City of Music’ due to being the home of world renowned music instrument manufacturers Yamaha, Kawai and Roland. We also have a Museum of Musical Instruments. His family crest is the mikan orange. There are many mikan orchards here that offer fruit picking. And finally, his hairpeice is actually a Hamanako eel – a local speciality. You’ll be hard pressed to find a restaurant here that doesn’t have unagi on the menu.
Naotora-chan is named after historial figure Ii Naotoram, a daimyō and priestess who lived in Hamamatsu.
Her katana is also a Hamanako eel. Being a significant female daimyō – she symbolises that Hamamatsu should be a safe city for women and children.
Finally, although not used as much as Ieyasu-kun and Naotora-chan we also have Unamo – an eel (NOT a sperm like I originally thought) with a potato on it’s head because of reasons – also from Hamamatsu City.
Unamo actually accosted me and Faith last year at a food festival downtown. A bunch of kids were clamouring for a photo but of course he made a beeline for the two gaijins.
He’s actually being pretty sassy here – asking Faith if both drinks are for her, and because we’re drinking Strong Zero (an inexpensive 9% cocktail in a can that leaves you with a brutal hangover the next day) suggesting we’re drinking for the sake of getting drunk. Cheeky!