The Drums of Summer (Miscellany #3)

Hi all,
Haven’t written for a month or so. I’ve been busy here, catching up with people, and making the most of a sweet spot when summer is warm but not furiously hot. For a few weeks, I wasn’t sleeping too well either, and between jobhunting, work and social life, my energy’s been fully spent. But I seem to have recovered, and I thought I’d give you a quick update on life as lived, along with some other assorted miscellanies. That’s right- it’s another fuckin’ clip show.

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Next Steps

On the second of July I’m bidding adieu to my current place of work. It’s been a frenetic, frustrating and fantastic year working with some superb folks. The absolute highlight of my year has been watching new students grow in confidence and ability. I’ve particularly enjoyed teaching some of my resident high-schoolers at Itsukaichi, but there were other bright spots: a new grandmother learning to speak English to her grandson in the USA, a football fanatic getting ready to volunteer in Africa, a nervous sixth-grader who asks excellent questions. The range of goals and motivations has surpassed my expectations.

That said, there were plenty of reasons to call it a day after a year. The eikaiwa (conversation school) environment is a good way to get started in Japan, but it can be a bit of a factory at times. There’s a lot of focus on volume, and I can’t help but feel quality falls by the wayside sometimes. Likewise, not having two days off in a row can be exhausting- with Mondays and Fridays as rest days, you never feel fully rested. So I’m taking the opportunity to jump ship. Well, sort of.

Things are still a bit fluid at the moment, as they say. In all probability, I’ll be working in Sakai from late August, where I’ve been offered a position as an Assistant Language Teacher in a junior high school. However, events might still unfold differently. In the meantime, I’m planning to take a couple of weeks to sort out my immediate future, learn Japanese and write a couple of big blog articles. And after that, in late July and early August, I’m taking this blog on the road. I haven’t committed myself to a fixed route, but it should involve a walk in the high mountains, Japan’s favourite marina, the shadow of a volcano and perhaps a little bit of mainland Asia.

Tōkasan

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In Shintenchi.

As summer starts, the streets are briefly filled with men and women in long, freeform yukatas. The designs change, with women preferring floral patterns and men leaning towards abstraction; however, the clothing is almost unisex, a reminder of a central tenet of Japanese fashion. Here, taking pride in your clothing has never been seen as a feminine trait, and the number of pristinely-dressed guys you’ll see walking down the street far outstrips Manchester or London. That said, on average the women still manage to outdo them this weekend, with their elaborate, flowing outfits and colourful sashes.

And man, the taiko drums. Lots of things about Japan are exaggerated by outside observers, but the sheer hypnosis of the taiko is not to be overstated. It’s a rhythm that marks out the ages, joining centuries together in its timeless whirl. Amid a troupe of drummers, the big beast sits- at the climax of the performance, one drummer straddles it and strikes a rhythm while the other hammers it from ground level. One day, I’m gonna buy one.

 

All Yesterday’s Parties

been to a fair few drinking spots in Hiroshima, but recently, I’ve been pointed to a couple that I’d somehow missed. First was Eight, a windowless hidey-hole near Shintenchi, which you enter through a mirrored corridor and are given a microchipped black wristband. You can use the wristband to order drinks, and pay for your tab at the end. Boy oh boy, there is nothing Japan loves like a shopping gimmick. The heart of the place is a lounge bar that lives up to its name, ringed as it is by an enormous, contiguous sofa covered in pillows and blankets. Incongruously, a Woody Allen movie played out wordlessly on a screen above us as a DJ spun smooth soul and jazz.

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It’s that time of year when the lure of a rooftop bar is irresistible. Watching the sunset from the tenth floor of a city block is always a pleasure, but watching from the rooftop of Fukuya department store, in the midst of a botanical garden’s worth of coiffured shrubs, with a little metal bell to call staff like some mad decadent aristocrat in the high summer of the British Raj- simply divine, darling. The Mojitos were questionable, though.

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The Absence of the Beast

I’ve been a right Cassandra to the newest English peeps who came here. When the summer comes, your skin will sizzle, I said. You’ll run from vending machine to vending machine, desperately trying to stave off dehydration with grape Fanta. Thermometers will explode and shower you with superheated mercury. The humidity will rise to nine hundred percent and you will have to live in underground tunnels and be hunted for sport. You’ll see.

Well, so far, so… nothing much, actually. When arrived in Osaka at the end of June last year, it was already 34 degrees and sweltering; Hiroshima was much the same. The baking sunshine was only broken by intense rainstorms, the fruit of the monsoon wind. But after the brief heatwave of the Flower Festival, the temperature has politely refused to rise any further, and hovers in the mid-twenties most of the time. The rainy season is on hold, too, although it’s supposed to arrive any day now. All in all, it’s pretty damn perfect, although it’s left my meteorological reputation in tatters. TATTERS, I tells ya…

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That’s all for now. I’ll be back later in the week.

Peace, Love and Understanding,
From Your Correspondent in a Transitional Period.

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