Apple Country

Stories of rural life as an ALT in a northern Japanese fishing town.

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After the bunkasai, I was invited to an enkai to celebrate the end of all the hard work put in to organising the festival.  An enkai is essentially a drinking party with food.  Normally the food is not chosen from a menu, and it’s fun to see what kind of things will be served up next.  Usually the main dish is cooked at the table, so we can all help ourselves.

Earlier the teachers told me the name of the restaurant we were going to, which was in the city, and I assumed I’d be able to find it using the map on my phone.  I followed the directions and ended up in some shady part of town behind the train station.  I was about to give up when a nice-looking restaurant came into view, but when I went in there was no reservation under my school name…

“What is the name of the restaurant you’re looking for?” the owner asked me.

“Rokkaitei..?” I said hopefully.

“Oh… this is Hana *something something*…”

I told her I got the feeling I was in the wrong place when I saw how nice it was inside!  She laughed and called a taxi for me, chatting with me the whole time before it arrived.  I still had ten minutes before I was supposed to be at the actual restaurant, so when I arrived and the teachers asked me if I found it okay, of course I told them I had no problem…

I had such a fun evening, not only because I could actually drink alcohol this time instead of driving home, but because I got to know one of the other teachers whom I hadn’t really spoken to before.   I was a bit worried when he sat next to me, because even though he’s friendly, he’s REALLY quiet, but after a couple of minutes I asked him my favourite question:  What music do you like?

I like a lot of different music so this question always gets the conversation going, unless my partner says they’re not interested in it, in which case I am immediately suspicious of them.  However this teacher, Mr. O, said he liked “older music”.  Off to a good start! I thought, and encouraged him to go into more detail.  He said he liked artists like the Rolling Stones, Neil Young, Radiohead and Deep Purple.  On top of that, he was a die-hard metal fan.  I’m probably not as much of a metal fan as he is, but I like nothing more than finding out I share similar music taste with another person, especially if they haven’t heard of any of my favourite bands, because I get to make them mixtapes!!  Then we can fangirl/fanboy over the same stuff.  He said I was the first girl he’d spoken to that liked that kind of music, which I was really surprised about.  But then again when idol groups and bands like One Direction dominate Japanese girls’ music preferences, maybe it’s not that surprising from his perspective.  In my opinion Japanese music is very… bland.  And even Mr. O said so (but I didn’t mention it until he did!!).

I pretty much only talked to him and my JTE all evening, and even she was surprised that someone as gentle as him was such a metalhead.  I mentioned that they always seemed to be the ones that sat in the corner being quiet at my school.  When I went to work on Tuesday, he lent me some CDs he’d picked up from his parents’ house that weekend for me.  They were 80s/90s power-metal bands he’d listened to at school, including Gamma Ray, Impelliterri and Fair Warning; not the kind of metal I’m really into, but I enjoyed imagining being a 15-year old Japanese high-schooler listening to these foreign artists for the first time.  I gave him a CD I’d made in return, which included all my own high school favourites like Muse, Queens of the Stone Age and the Pixies.  After lunch he told me he was half-way through listening to it, and that he was really liking it so far.

It probably seems like music is the only thing I want to talk about, which is partially true, but I like it as a topic mainly because it helps me get to know people better and use it as a base to move the conversation off into other directions.  But if I come across someone as nerdy about it as I am, we’ll probably never need to.

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Monkeys + Music = Happiness

Last weekend was absolutely gorgeous, and as I had no plans on Sunday, I went for a walk to the park I’d discovered at the top of a hill a few weeks back. As I was walking up the highway, I noticed a man looking up at the mountain side and whistling like he was trying to beckon something.  I stopped to work out what he was looking at, and he shouted, “saru da!” (monkeys!) and waved me over.  I crossed the road and he pointed to a family of macaques peering down at us from the mountainside.  I’d seen some once on my way home from my little countryside school, when two of them were just chilling in the middle of the road. My friend told me he also saw a mother macaque and her baby in the road near his house once (he lives in a rural area up north on the peninsula).  The mum ran into the bushes when she saw the car coming, but the baby didn’t move, so she ran back and slapped it round the head to get it off the road.  Yep, I think I can relate to that baby…

So back on the highway, naturally this was the only time I’d gone for a walk without my proper camera, and none of my phone pictures came out well enough to show you, so I’ll try again next time.  After chatting to the man for a few minutes, I carried on up the road with a smile on my face, and came to the hill that led to the park.  The variety of snowy footprints along the secluded pathway showed no sign of man, so I knew I’d have it all to myself again.  Last time I rolled a snowball that came up to my waist, but when I got there all that remained was a sad-looking stump.  I could see tiny paw prints leading up to it about a foot away, which appeared to retreat once the inquisitor had decided that my snowball wasn’t really a threat.

This time the glorious sunshine had made me slightly mad with happiness, so I got my phone out and put Beyonce on YouTube, then danced around in the snow for half an hour.  I hadn’t had fun like that in ages… it was quite liberating!  I don’t know what I would’ve done if someone appeared at the park entrance, but all the times I’ve been for a walk up that way I’ve not once seen another person (except the man from earlier, but I think he lived in the house right next to the road).

Pathway to the park

Pathway to the park

My personal park

Aaaall miiiiine!   From the map on the right, it looks like some of these trees are cherry blossoms, so I can’t wait to come here in Spring!

On the way home, I listened to the radio on my phone as I didn’t have my iPod.  I’d realised that I’d had little to no contact with the media (apart from news) since I’d left the UK, and even then I had a tendency to live inside my stone age music bubble, avoiding the charts because I couldn’t deal with the modern age.  Anyway I was listening to the radio in the hope I’d discover some new music and it did not let me down.  The first three records that were played were new to my ears, which have been blistered by Japan’s new national anthem aka Frozen’s Let It Go.  I forgot how good new music can be!  Japanese music is AWFUL.  I can’t think of a Japanese artist or song I’ve heard and genuinely thought it was good.  Okay so I obviously haven’t heard every Japanese artist and there probably are some good ones out there (maybe) which I haven’t heard, but I’ve listened to some of the more popular artists and they’re all naff… so it’s enough to put me off the rest of the churned out crap.

Aside from that little rant, I’ve really been enjoying my quest for new music.  A couple of friends have made me mixtapes, I’ve bought new albums with birthday money and I’ve listened to more classical music in the last two months than I think I did during my whole music degree… During my dissertation research, I was trying to find out what it is about music that makes us enjoy it and make us feel emotional when we listen to certain music.  One theory is that the element of hearing the unexpected is what triggers the release of dopamine by the brain, giving us that good feeling.  When we listen to music, the brain predicts what’s going to happen by keeping a record of the twists and turns that have already occurred.  This is a bit like having a conversation, as you retain the memory of what was said a few sentences back in order to make sense of whatever is said next.  When something unfolds in the music and deviates from the brain’s prediction, it arouses the listener and consequently has an emotional effect.  This can explain why listening to new music makes us feel good, but what about our favourite songs?  I still get that emotional feeling after listening to a song I love for the 100th time.  The emotional trigger could be a key change, a sudden shift in the pitch (particularly with singers), an unexpected transition from quiet to loud.  There are A LOT of theories to do with this which I won’t go into now, but basically what I’m saying is, surprises are good, and new music is good for the brain!  So your task for the week is to go out and buy the new album by that artist you’ve heard recently and think is quite good… then recommend it to me 🙂