(A month late… I will get back into posting, I promise!!)
Last year I spent the evening of my birthday drinking wine in the bath. This year I sat in a jazz bar eating sushi and being charmed by a drunk Japanese businessman. Both years were enjoyable, but I think I can look forward to my birthdays again if they all turn out to be as fun as this year’s!
Every Tuesday I meet my barber friend for English/Japanese practice, so I was planning on just going out for some food with him and my friend in the next town over. At the last minute he suggested we go to his sister’s bar in Hirosaki, I imagine because the restaurant I originally wanted to go to is owned by his wife and he’s probably sick of it! We picked up Lauren and drove over an hour through a snowy blizzard to get there.
Like a lot of bars in Japanese cities, it was situated down an alley underneath a building full of other bars; the inside was only big enough for a handful of people but didn’t feel cramped at all. There were five or six bar stools of the worn-out suede variety, surrounding a sunken bar area where the mama in her black crochet shawl and red lipstick stood puffing on a cigarette. She welcomed us in, chatting away as she poured us some whiskey and the other lady pottered around in the kitchen out back, bringing us little dishes of food one by one. We had sushi, nabe, pickled vegetables and a little bowl of pork soup, followed by a kind of fruit pastry cake. I wasn’t expecting any of it, so it was a lovely gesture and truly appreciated!
Toshiya said he wanted to hear me play something on the piano, so I brought some music just in case because I am one of those people who lack the ability to memorise any music worth listening to. The time came, and I played my failsafe Nocturne No. 9 by Chopin; probably not the kind of thing that they hear in a jazz bar very often, but it was fun to play for people again. When I finished, I saw that we’d gained an audience member in the form of a rather drunk salaryman, which explained the distant cheering I heard halfway through playing. He proceeded to entertain us for the rest of the night, despite repeating half the things he’d already said, and gave the other bar mama some money to go out and buy me flowers from him. Lucky me!
It makes me so happy to have friends like Toshiya; it’s thanks to the hospitality of Japanese people in the community that let me do things like this. Even though I find it hard to befriend Japanese people in my tiny town, I’m glad to have met the handful of friends I do have.
Introducing my first comic drawn on my graphics tablet! It’s taken a while to get finished, due to having to restart it a couple of times because A) my cartoon style sucked and B) I recently upgraded to the full version of the software I was trialing and learned that there is such a thing as LAYERS which made drawing this kinda thing a billion times easier.
To distinguish English dialogue from Japanese, I wrote what would’ve been said in Japanese in the slightly thicker ink pen style.
The older folk make enthusiastic conversation partners, but the intensity of topics tends to escalate rather quickly…
(Monday 26th January)
In other news, I was on my way home from evening taiko practice thinking how great it was that I hadn’t scratched my car yet this winter, when I skidded on the ice and collided with a snow bank on the other side of the road. It was dark and the ice had refrozen into a sort of cheese-grater fashion, so this jolted my steering wheel and caused me to lose control; the already terrible breaks did nothing whatsoever, so my only choice was to let the snow bank take care of the situation for me. It was over very quickly and there was no time to swerve; I just remember veering off to the side and thinking “Oh shit”, then hearing and feeling an almighty bang as I was bounced up in my seat upon impact. The airbags burst out and my hip got bashed up against the steering wheel, but I knew I hadn’t hit my head. As the car started filling up with smoke I wasted no time trying to get out, panicking slightly as my door was jammed and wouldn’t open, but managing to crawl out the passenger side instead. The smoke smelled really bad, and after remembering that the engine was in the back of the car, I knew it was just coming from the airbags. Upon realising I couldn’t see anything, and in no apparent danger, I popped back in to retrieve the glasses that had flown off my face.
An old lady came hobbling out of nowhere to see what had happened while I was on the phone to my neighbour, and her Tsugaru-ben was too heavy for me to understand properly so I passed her over to tell my neighbour where we were. Luckily we were only 8 minutes from home so it wasn’t long before they came over. Meanwhile a family from the house right by the scene came out, whose 12 year old daughter had heard the crash from her bedroom. Even though it was bloody freezing, they stood outside and waited with me, bringing me a cup of tea and generally being lovely to me. Then we looked up and realised the concrete telephone pole had cracked so that it was bending slightly from the waist. Oops!!
When the shock started to set in, I started thinking all those horrible ‘What if’s, like if there had been a person or car there, would I have injured them? What if I’d hit the pole harder and it fell down?! But there was no pavement, and I knew that I always slow down if I see another car or pedestrian coming, so I hoped that wouldn’t have been the case anyway. I was going between 45 and 50km/h, which is probably the fastest I should have been going on icy roads (even with winter tyres), but luckily not fast enough to do myself any injury. Even my supervisor said he drives faster than that on the ice.
So it turns out that despite me thinking that I wasn’t allowed to use the town car for anything except work, this evidently wasn’t the case as my supervisor appeared to have no idea why I had rented a car at all. To cut a long story short, there was a misunderstanding and I can actually use it to go anywhere in Aomori, as long as I don’t have any passengers, I buy my own petrol for long journeys and I don’t leave it where I can’t get to it easily in an emergency. I already understood this, but the difference was I just thought I couldn’t use it outside work whatsoever. Oh well! Saves me a few quid. I had to spend the day at the BOE giving a detailed report of the incident. I didn’t get any points taken off my license because I didn’t do myself or anyone else any injury, wasn’t speeding or driving irresponsibly, and it was clearly the ice that caused the problem.
The man I rented the car from was so kind though and was barely making any money from me using it. It had to be scrapped, and I felt so bad that I wrecked his car not even having had it for a month. I made him a cake. I also felt a bit better when he said that I was his third customer that day who crashed one of his cars. A teacher at my school also wrecked his car that morning on the ice. It was clearly a bad day for driving!! Naturally, the next day was gloriously sunny and all the ice disappeared off the roads. At least this time I got myself in trouble I was only eight minutes from home, as opposed to 4 hours away by train in another prefecture.
(Tuesday 19th January)
I’ve gone from already counting down the days until I leave Japan to thinking that if every day were like today, I’d probably have decided to stay a third year. (Edit: Nope, as soon as I go back to the BOE I am immediately grateful for making the decision to leave!!)
Today was the first day back at my favourite school since breaking up for winter holidays. I had such a laugh in all my lessons, mostly because the kids have brilliant senses of humour. The highlight was probably showing the 2nd years the video for Learn to Fly by Foo Fighters (probably the funniest they made) and everyone thought it was hilarious. I think we watched it four times after the students realised that all the different characters were being played by the same band members.
I was really excited to see that they’d left me an invitation to their end of year enkai, because they have only invited me to two before. I put it aside and tidied up the rest of the school newsletters that had accumulated on top of the laptop, and underneath I found a New Year’s postcard from none other than the ikemen (beautiful male) P.E. teacher who sits behind me.
He wrote: “Are you enjoying school? If it’s ok with you, please come and join a P.E. lesson some time. I think the students will be happy.”
So I found myself, not for the first time, reluctantly agreeing to do sports in order to impress a guy (he’s married though, sigh). I played basketball with the third graders (15 year olds) and was surprised at how much I enjoyed it, but more so that I didn’t drop the ball or smack anyone in the face. I felt a surge of pride as I threw the ball across the court to my team mate and sensei shouted naisu pasu! at me from the other side. I can’t have been that bad because I’ve been asked to join in again next time…